In 2015, New Mexico became the first state in recent years to abolish civil forfeiture. But Albuquerque and other cities are refusing to comply with the new law and are continuing to seize cars under their municipal ordinances. Just ask Arlene Harjo. In April, Arlene loaned her car to her son, Tino, who assured her that he was only taking a mid-day trip to the gym with a friend.
Instead of going to the gym, Tino took a lengthy drive to see a girlfriend, and on his way back to Albuquerque that evening he was arrested on suspicion of a DWI. The city impounded his mother’s car, claiming it was subject to civil forfeiture because Tino had a prior DWI arrest—over 9 years ago. When Arlene tried to get her car back, the city told her she would have to pay $4,000 and have a boot on the car for 18 months. When she told the city she couldn’t afford that the city filed suit to forfeit the car. Arlene joined with the Institute for Justice to get her car back and put a stop to Albuquerque’s abusive forfeiture program.
A recent Albuquerque Journal editorial noted:
While the general concept is fine – keeping drunken drivers off the road is important – it’s hard to make the case that a nuisance has been stopped when Tino Harjo’s most recent prior DWI was seven years ago and he wasn’t required to have an interlock license at the time of his arrest in April.
“Right now, the city’s application of the ordinance smacks of revenue-chasing,” the Journal added. The Institute for Justice found that Albuquerque seizes over 1,000 cars and brings in over $1 million in revenue annually. Between 2010 and 2014 the city seized over 8,300 cars and collected over $8.7 million.
Albuquerque is not alone. Santa Fe, the state’s capital, runs a similar program aimed at suspected DWI violations. According to a front page article in the Santa Fe New Mexican:
In Santa Fe, 323 vehicles were seized between January and July this year, mostly for suspected drunken driving and driving on a revoked license, 38 were forfeited in state District Court and 54 were sold at auction. The program brought in $253,493 in the most recent fiscal year.
Or as IJ Attorney Robert Everett Johnson put it, “It is not right in America that people are punished when they haven’t done anything wrong.”