We’ve made the argument here at SamePageNation that civil asset forfeiture is little more than government-sanctioned theft. It’s a real problem, and millions of Americans on all sides of the political aisle agree.
The state of New Mexico decided to do what was right and end the practice. Unfortunately, the city of Albuquerque didn’t seem to care about pesky things like laws while enforcing the law.
Albuquerque resident Arlene Harjo, 56, is paying off a loan for a car she doesn’t have, because the city seized it for a crime it readily admits she didn’t commit, under an asset forfeiture program that is supposed to be banned.
After her son was pulled over for drunk driving, Harjo became one of roughly a thousand people every year who have their car seized by the city of Albuquerque in a process heavily weighted against the property owner. But unlike the vast majority of those cases, she’s not rolling over. A new lawsuit filed Wednesday in state court by Harjo and the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, argues the city’s lucrative vehicle seizure program stands in direct contradiction of recently passed state laws and “is driven by a pernicious—and unconstitutional—profit incentive” that deprived Harjo of her 14th Amendment due process rights.
“It’s a scam and a rip off,” Harjo said. “They’re taking property from people who just loan a vehicle to someone. It’s happened a lot. Everybody I’ve talked to has had it happen to them or somebody they know, and everybody just pays.”
Republican New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez signed a bill into law last year essentially ending civil asset forfeiture in the state, based largely on critical stories about programs like Albuquerque’s. Under civil asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement can seize property without ever convicting, or even charging, the owner with a crime. New Mexico’s reforms require a criminal conviction to seize property.
This isn’t necessarily on the police, but it is on the city leaders who allow this program to exist, one which targets drunk driving but ends up with cars from people who weren’t even driving being seized by police.
The practice is bad enough, but when the law expressly forbids it? Awful.
The city of Albuquerque is now dealing with a court of law because Harjo wasn’t going to take it. More power to her.