Civil forfeiture is an underhanded way the government can take citizens’ money without even charging them with a crime. And it’s even worse than federal agencies seizing small business owners’ bank accounts… police officers can also take cash away from unlucky travelers under this allowance or evict the parents of a child involved in drugs.

Many of these cases are actually brought against the property seized, not the owner of the property – which have fewer protections under the law. “Under civil forfeiture laws, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”

Most police departments get to keep a portion or all of the money they seize, and many can spend it however they like. In a public hearing, one officer called their forfeiture money “pennies from heaven” that their department uses to buy “toys.”

But in New Mexico, things are getting better.  It started in 2015, when several New Mexico law enforcement officials were filmed making outrageous comments about seizing the property of law-abiding citizens. In response, state legislators unanimously passed the New Mexico Forfeiture Act (NMFA).

This landmark law abolished the practice throughout the state and made the Land of Enchantment just one of three states without civil forfeiture. Among its many reforms, the act required a criminal conviction to forfeit property, shifted the burden of proof from innocent owners onto the government, and set up court hearings to better ensure due process. Most sweeping of all, the NMFA mandated that any and all forfeiture proceeds had to be sent to the state general fund.

But some New Mexico cities — Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces, among others — refused to comply. Officials in these cities continued to seize cars and basically just do whatever they wanted to do.  But, according to Forbes, no more:

The city of Albuquerque cannot confiscate cars without a criminal conviction and must comply with a New Mexico state law that abolished civil forfeiture, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled this month. Under a vehicle seizure ordinance intended to combat drunk driving, Albuquerque seized hundreds of cars from innocent owners and freely admitted that “about half of the vehicles” taken “are not owned by the offender that we confiscate it from.” Confiscations were so lucrative, program revenue frequently exceeded expenses, giving police and prosecutors their own slush fund worth millions of dollars.

Writing for a unanimous court, Judge Stephen French ruled that Albuquerque’s forfeiture program was “wholly contrary to the language and spirit” of New Mexico’s reform, which preempted the city’s ordinance “in its entirety.” This decision joins a landmark ruling from late July that declared Albuquerque’s forfeiture program unconstitutional.

This seems like common sense, but that seems to be in short supply when it comes to the topic of civil forfeiture.

Good for New Mexico for paving the way toward freedom.

Province of British Columbia on Flickr

Hat Tip: Forbes

About The Author

Mark Meckler

Mark was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and served as the national coordinator. He left the organization to work more broadly on expanding the self-governance movement beyond the partisan divide. Mark appears regularly on television in outlets as diverse as MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC. He’s highly sought after for the tea party perspective from print and electronic media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Examiner, Politico and the The Hill. Mark blogs at MarkMeckler.com, and his opinion editorials regularly run in many of the leading political newspapers both on and offline. Mark has a BA in English from San Diego State University and graduated with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1988. He practiced real estate and business law for almost a decade. For the last eleven years of his legal career he specialized in Internet advertising law. When not fighting for the future of our nation, Mark is an avid horseman, and lives in rural northern California with his wife Patty and two children.