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New Mexico Ends Civil Forfeiture

On April 9, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez ended civil forfeiture in the state by signing landmark legislation based on IJ’s model forfeiture law.

New Mexico boldly enacted best-in-the-nation reforms to protect the property and due process rights of all New Mexicans. It replaced civil forfeiture with criminal forfeiture, redirected forfeiture proceeds into the state’s general fund and prohibited state law enforcement from circumventing these reforms by collaborating with the federal government.

Reform efforts started late last year when The New York Times drew national attention to videos uncovered by IJ proving law enforcement was using state civil forfeiture laws to take property and profit from those takings. In those videos, Las Cruces City Attorney Harry Connelly explains that his civil forfeiture filings were “masterpieces of deception” and “we always try to get, every once in a while, maybe a good car.”

The videos were smoking-gun evidence demonstrating that law enforcement used civil forfeiture to take property from owners who did nothing wrong. State legislators could not ignore them.

Sensing an historic opportunity, IJ teamed up with a former Department of Justice prosecutor and local activists from the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations to push for comprehensive forfeiture reform during the 2015 session. Using IJ’s model forfeiture bill and advice from IJ, the coalition persuaded legislators, the public and ultimately Gov. Martinez to support the bill. The new law is now the gold standard against which all other state civil forfeiture reforms will be measured.

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