N.M. Senators Move For Final Judgment In Albuquerque Forfeiture Challenge

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · January 20, 2016

Albuquerque, N.M.—Just two months after filing a lawsuit to challenge Albuquerque’s civil forfeiture program, today, state Senators Lisa Torraco and Daniel Ivey-Soto are asking the court to enter final judgment in their favor.

The senators, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), filed a motion this morning seeking an expedited resolution of the case and a quick end to Albuquerque’s civil forfeiture program.

In 2015, the New Mexico Legislature enacted landmark legislation abolishing civil forfeiture. Yet Albuquerque law enforcement continues to operate a massive civil forfeiture program. Law enforcement uses civil forfeiture proceeds to pad its budget—and even to pay the salaries of people who oversee the program.

According to today’s motion:

The preemption analysis in this case is straightforward. Albuquerque’s vehicle forfeiture ordinance conflicts with—and is therefore preempted by—the Forfeiture Reform Law because it allows government to continue taking property through civil forfeiture even after that practice has been abolished. Albuquerque claims that it enjoys an “exemption” from state forfeiture law, but that exemption can be found nowhere in the text of the law. To the contrary, an earlier version of the law provided just such an exemption, but that exemption was repealed.

“This is a simple case,” said IJ Attorney Robert Everett Johnson. “The New Mexico Legislature has abolished civil forfeiture throughout the state—and that includes in Albuquerque. All we’re asking the court to do is enforce the law.”

Victory for the senators will have implications throughout the state, as other cities also continue to operate civil forfeiture programs despite the 2015 reforms.

“Civil forfeiture takes the principle of innocent until proven guilty and flips it on its head, treating property owners worse than criminals by making them prove their innocence,” said IJ Attorney Robert Frommer. “Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today. No one should lose their property without being convicted of a crime, and law enforcement should not profit from taking people’s property.”