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Suing to Stop Civil Forfeiture

Suing to Stop Civil Forfeiture

'Albuquerque’s law enforcement officials seem to think that they are above the law' Institute of Justice attorney Robert Everett Johnson

ABQ FREE PRESS STAFF REPORT

Fed up that the City of Albuquerque continues to seize cars from people not convicted of a crime, two legislators say they’ll file suit to stop the practice.

DanielIvey-SotoLisa TorracoAlbuquerque Sens. Daniel Ivey-Soto, a Democrat, and Lisa Torraco, a Republican, said they’ll join with the Institute of Justice to file a lawsuit to force the city to comply with the legislative intent of a law passed during the 2015 session which banned the practice of civil forfeiture, also known as “policing for profit.”

“The profit incentive created by civil forfeiture is so strong, officials charged with upholding the law are now the ones breaking it,” said Institute for Justice attorney Robert Everett Johnson. “Albuquerque’s law enforcement officials seem to think that they are above the law. But if they won’t listen to the state legislature, they’ll have to answer to a judge.”

ABQ Free Press revealed in a story last month that the Albuquerque Police Department continues to seize the vehicles of DWI suspects not yet convicted of a crime under the theory that the program isn’t being conducted under civil forfeiture but instead as “nuisance abatement.”

“The City of Albuquerque does more civil asset forfeiture than any other area of the state,” and it isn’t about to give up the $1.2 million worth of vehicles it seizes each year, attorney Diego Esquibel told a panel discussion on civil forfeiture in mid-October.

Despite the law that made civil forfeiture illegal as of July 1, Albuquerque continues to flout the law and run a veritable civil forfeiture machine—a program that “earned” the city over $1 million last year. Property owners caught in this machine face a maze of procedural obstacles and a lopsided legal code that favors police and prosecutors at every turn, Johnson said.

The city seizes 1,200 to 1,500 vehicles a year, which are then sold, Esquibel said. He added that it’s almost impossible to get a vehicle back. The easiest way is to pay the city $650 and agree to have the vehicle booted for six months. City hearing officers often tell residents whose cars have been seized that they can go to a hearing, but that they will most certainly lose, Esquibel said.


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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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