Even After New Mexico Ended Civil Forfeiture, Police Continue to Seize Cars

New Mexico Civil Forfeiture parking lot IFJ_7302

More than a year after New Mexico abolished civil forfeiture, cities across the state continue to seize cars using civil forfeiture. NPR reporter Martin Kaste interviewed one family who had their car seized by Albuquerque police back in December.

Ashley Martinez was in the passenger’s seat of her parent’s 2006 Pontiac while a mechanic friend was at the wheel test driving it to check for problems. When police pulled them over she found out the mechanic had a revoked driver’s license. Cynthia Martinez, Ashley’s mother, said she didn’t understand how Albuquerque police were able to take the vehicle: “They did away with this right?”

Last July, spurred in part by outrageous comments made by one city attorney discussing the use of civil forfeiture to take peoples’ cars, a new law took effect that abolished civil forfeiture throughout New Mexico. The bill even passed the state legislature unanimously. The sweeping overhaul earned New Mexico the highest state grade for its forfeiture laws in the Institute for Justice’s report, Policing for Profit.

Rather than follow the new law, police in Albuquerque and other cities claim it does not affect municipal forfeiture ordinances, meaning they would be exempt from the reforms. As recently as September, the Albuquerque Police Department was trying to buy more land to park seized vehicles.

State Sen. Lisa Torraco, a state senator in New Mexico who joined with the Institute for Justice to challenge Albuquerque’s civil forfeiture abuse, said that, “[t]he cities and the counties are making so much money off of forfeiture that they don’t want to give it up.”

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has collected more than $8.3 million from seized vehicles since 2010. That is more than the entire state of Virginia collected from forfeited vehicles between 2000 and 2014.

Last November 2015, IJ challenged Albuquerque’s continuing seizure of vehicles on behalf of State Sens. Lisa Torraco and Daniel Ivey-Soto. But in May, a district judge dismissed the case on a technicality, ruling that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the law. In the wake of that decision, IJ is exploring the possibility of an appeal—as well as other steps to challenge Albuquerque’s forfeiture program.

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