When New Mexico banned asset forfeiture, we heard the police moaning about they wouldn’t be able to function unless they could plunder people without convicting them of any crime. Now, Albuquerque has created a fake loophole. The Washington Examiner reports:
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, signed a historic reform of civil forfeiture in her state earlier this year. The reform law cracked down on the much-abused practice by, among other things, requiring that defendants be convicted of crimes before government can cite those crimes to justify taking away their property. It also required that the proceeds of all forfeitures must go to the state’s general fund, so as to eliminate any profit motive for state agencies or local governments.
This admirable reform doesn’t sit well with officials in New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque, who have decided to exempt themselves from the law by pretending that the law does not apply to municipal forfeitures. The truth is they are addicted to easy revenues from seizing automobiles, which they then also, shockingly, drive around for their own personal use. They are headed for an important legal showdown that will determine not only a specific dispute in New Mexico, but also a broader national question of whether city governments may be a law unto themselves.
Local governments are supposed to protect their people from tyrants higher up in government. Albuquerque is turning that directive on its head. The state of New Mexico enacted a law that protected residents from robbery, including robbery from federal agencies. The city is overturning that protection to impose a plunder regime on the city.
According to the Institute for Justice, an organization that has spearheaded civil forfeiture reform efforts nationwide and represents the two lawmakers, Albuquerque seized more than 8,300 cars, one for every 66 residents, between 2010 and 2014. The program hauls in more than $1 million a year.
To recover their property, owners must prove their innocence, for they are presumed guilty. They have only 10 days to initiate proceedings and must pay $50 just to get a hearing. As in most places where civil forfeiture is practiced, the procedures put property owners at a great enough disadvantage that many simply give up without a fight or agree to settlements. Those who do manage to get their cars back are charged for towing and storage anyway.
This isn’t a description of Russia or China. This is life in America!