Asset Forfeiture Reform in New Mexico

 

384px-Governor_NewMexicoLate last month, the New Mexico legislature passed a bill — with no opposition in either chamber — reforming civil asset forfeiture, a process that is sometimes abused by law enforcement to seize citizens’ private property without their being convicted of a crime, or following a minor traffic violation. Worse yet, under some arrangements with the Feds, police departments can keep the money to use for their own budgets. No one knew whether Governor Susana Martinez would sign SB 560, and the clock was ticking before the legislature’s session ended. Well, she has done it!

Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has signed into law House Bill 560, the state’s broad asset forfeiture reform legislation. The bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Zachary Cook, had complete bipartisan approval in the state’s split House (controlled by Republicans) and Senate (controlled by Democrats).

More from Reason:

It eliminated the concept of “civil” asset forfeiture, meaning law enforcement agencies would have to actually convict people of crimes to take their assets. It also requires all proceeds from asset forfeitures by law enforcement agencies to be put into the state’s general fund. This is important because it reduces police incentives to engage in reckless forfeiture efforts, because they’d no longer be able to keep what they grab. It also means that the law enforcement agencies wouldn’t be able to bypass state law by turning to the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program. The program lets local law enforcement agencies keep seized assets by partnering with federal agencies, but it requires the locals to have their own funds for them. House Bill 560… would forbid law enforcement agencies from retaining any forfeited property.

Image Credit: “Governor NewMexico” by The state of New Mexico. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

There are 42 comments.

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  1. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Thank Heaven for this. Even when I was a registered Republican I found civil forfeiture distasteful. From what I understand, it was meant to be a tool in the War on Drugs but ballooned way beyond the original scope. Once the government discovered they could make a few bucks off of it, it was bound to be abused.

    Well done, New Mexico. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

    • #1
  2. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    While Martinez could have stopped it and did not; it is really Zachary Cook that deserves the credit.

    Small victories!

    • #2
  3. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    From what I understand, it was meant to be a tool in the War on Drugs but ballooned way beyond the original scope.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_forfeiture_in_the_United_States

    This is interesting;  the two times in the U.S. history when it became prevalent was during the prohibition and since the Drug War.  The origins are older, but this law is such a big step in the right direction.

    • #3
  4. Super Nurse Inactive
    Super Nurse
    @SuperNurse

    Like, like, like!! This is a great example of something the right can really get behind and simultaneously increase appeal to people we don’t normally attract. We should all be writing to our representatives to work on this at a state level.

    • #4
  5. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    About 20 years ago I did the touristy tour of the FBI headquarters. One part of the tour was a room full of cool stuff that the FBI stole confiscated. That is when I first learned that they could take things without actually convicting you of any crime. That was a bit of a shock to me.

    I am sure there are some sort of Constitutional loopholes that defenders of these laws can site, but it’s still wrong. You would think that this is something both Right and Left could agree on, but when politicians see money . . .

    • #5
  6. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    This is great news and something conservatives should champion elsewhere.

    • #6
  7. Jubal Member
    Jubal
    @

    Nice to hear some good news.

    • #7
  8. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Thanks for sharing. I never thought civil forfeiture was a good idea, and that led me to read a book called Taken, which introduced me to the unstoppable Richard Epstein’s tract on the topic. As I recall he was also skeptical, so that was two of us.

    • #8
  9. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    We still need to get rid of RICO.  The concept of asset forfeiture goes against the principle of due process, and this Federal law does just that.

    Hooray for New Mexico!

    • #9
  10. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    Barkha Herman:While Martinez could have stopped it and did not; it is really Zachary Cook that deserves the credit.

    Small victories!

    Small victories are better than none at all.

    • #10
  11. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    Barkha Herman:

    From what I understand, it was meant to be a tool in the War on Drugs but ballooned way beyond the original scope.

    This is interesting; the two times in the U.S. history when it became prevalent was during the prohibition and since the Drug War. The origins are older, but this law is such a big step in the right direction.

    Federal policing ballooned during prohibition, and again during the 1970’s when drug laws started getting enforced.

    I oppose criminalizing drug abuse.  On the other hand, if employers want to drug test (regardless of job), then have at it.  For that matter, if a little league organization wants to do the same thing to its coaches, not to mention the kids, again have at it.

    I don’t even mind if CPA’s have to pass a drug test to keep their certification.

    That kind of approach would solve a lot of civil liberty encroachments.

    • #11
  12. SteveSc Member
    SteveSc
    @SteveSc

    Good deal.  An excellent blog on this stuff (and abuses thereof) is Rany Balko

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/people/radley-balko

    • #12
  13. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Hopefully we’ll see more reforms like this in other states.  Now if only we could get this at the federal level.

    • #13
  14. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @GrannyDude

    Back in the 90s, when he was working undercover, my (late) husband drove a “forfeited” drug dealer’s car.  I’m not a car person, so I can’t tell you what kind of car it was—just that it was black, with tinted windows and orange flames painted on the sides. The original owner did go to jail (and he was a real jerk) but nonetheless, Drew thought it was pretty creepy that the car got taken away before the guy had actually been convicted of anything. I can’t remember what circumstances could trigger the forfeiture—that is, what bar had to be cleared in terms of probable cause— but I trusted Drew when he said the bar wasn’t high enough.

    So yes—this is a good thing and long overdue! And maybe we could make a pact as a country not to declare war on things we strongly object to? Countries with evil leaders,  yes, but not drugs, poverty, illiteracy or even “terror.”

    War can sometimes be a (and perhaps “the”) useful action, but it isn’t a useful metaphor.

    • #14
  15. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    The bar for declaring any “War” should be set high.

    • #15
  16. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Barkha Herman:The bar for declaring any “War” should be set high.

    Should we declare War on declaring “War”?

    • #16
  17. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    skipsul:

    Barkha Herman:The bar for declaring any “War” should be set high.

    Should we declare War on declaring “War”?

    What bar have you met to do so?

    • #17
  18. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Barkha Herman:

    skipsul:

    Barkha Herman:The bar for declaring any “War” should be set high.

    Should we declare War on declaring “War”?

    What bar have you met to do so?

    A low one, admittedly.

    • #18
  19. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Barkha Herman:

    skipsul:

    Barkha Herman:The bar for declaring any “War” should be set high.

    Should we declare War on declaring “War”?

    What bar have you met to do so?

    Yeah, before declaring a War on War we should at least appoint a War on War Czar.

    • #19
  20. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Vance Richards:

    Barkha Herman:

    skipsul:

    Barkha Herman:The bar for declaring any “War” should be set high.

    Should we declare War on declaring “War”?

    What bar have you met to do so?

    Yeah, before declaring a War on War we should at least appoint a War on War Czar.

    That was almost a coffee snorter there.  Keyboard saved just in time.

    • #20
  21. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    It eliminated the concept of “civil” asset forfeiture, meaning law enforcement agencies would have to actually convict people of crimes to take their assets.”

    Wow, what a concept!

    Very glad to hear about this. I hope to see other states follow New Mexico’s lead. I’m also optimistic after hearing it had no opposition from either party. It really is a common sense reform everyone should be able to agree on.

    • #21
  22. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    And so it begins – we solemnly hope. This whole RICO and forfeiture bit is simply bad behavior by a government. Perhaps now that we have ONE state that has done it, we may get more. One can only hope.

    • #22
  23. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Oh, and while we’re at it, ?can we get rid of the TSA.

    • #23
  24. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    Devereaux:And so it begins – we solemnly hope. This whole RICO and forfeiture bit is simply bad behavior by a government. Perhaps now that we have ONE state that has done it, we may get more. One can only hope.

    This is why it is on my Facebook timeline.

    The trouble is two fold:

    1. Most people are just unaware of the issue. Of those who have cursory information, many are not savvy to the details and the extent of the abuse
    2. People have no idea that it can be reversed or how.  Many do not understand state powers or concepts of nullification etc.

    The only hope is, like the ice bucket challenge, awareness must be increased.  Only those of us who think this is an issue and are monitoring it can speak on it or promote it…

    • #24
  25. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Has any R candidate for President added this to their platform? Because they really, really should.

    • #25
  26. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    iWe:Has any R candidate for President added this to their platform? Because they really, really should.

    Which means they are unlikely to do so.  Heck, they could address a whole bunch of similar issues, from prosecutorial to prison to police reforms… and they likely won’t.

    • #26
  27. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    It seems like a ready-made issue for Rand Paul, though.

    Remove asset forefeiture powers from all agencies. All must follow due process.

    Demilitarize all domestic agencies except those very few that MUST be armed (the FBI springs to mind).

    • #27
  28. MaggiMc Coolidge
    MaggiMc
    @MaggiMc

    This New Yorker article piqued my interest in this topic:

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/08/12/taken

    That led me indirectly to this series of reporting here in Nashville:

    http://www.scrippsmedia.com/newschannel5/news/newschannel-5-investigates/policing-for-profit/Timeline-265640441.html

    I’ve heard Richard Epstein comment on forfeiture in a general sense, but the amount of quease-inducing detail I found in these and other sources is truly disturbing.

    • #28
  29. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    The police department of the City of Rio Rancho (abuts Albuquerque) has been particularly noted for seizing property without a conviction.  I think I read somewhere that 40 to 50 percent of its revenue came through that door.

    It is nice to see New Mexico at the top of a good list for once.

    BTW–I understand that several other states have also passed similar laws.

    • #29
  30. Pathfinder1208 Member
    Pathfinder1208
    @Pathfinder1208

    Suppose you have a courier who is stopped in New Mexico for speeding. The officer notices a lot of cash in the back seat of the vehicle. Say, one million dollars. The officer asks where did you get the money. Courier says, “my boss made it by selling children as sex slaves in California. I am driving the money to Texas.” Besides speeding, has the courier committed a crime in New Mexico? (if your answer is yes, a reference to any state statute would be nice) If he has not committed a crime, do you let him drive away with the million dollars?

    • #30
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