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ABQ Free Press Forum: Candidates Answer Civil Asset Forfeiture Question

ABQ Free Press Forum: Candidates Answer Civil Asset Forfeiture Question

Seven of the nine mayoral candidates say they will end the practice of civil asset forfeiture in the city, meaning APD's practice of seizing the cars of people arrested for DWI but not yet convicted of the crime.

It looks like the days are numbered for the Albuquerque Police Department’s practice of seizing the cars of people arrested for drunken driving but not yet convicted of the crime.

The practice is called civil asset forfeiture, and in 2015, Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation banning it in the state. But Albuquerque and other cities have gotten around the law by seizing property under so-called nuisance abatement laws.

Well, seven of the nine mayoral candidates say they will end the practice.

That’s the result of ABQ Free Press’ first question in our rolling email mayoral candidate forum.

Candidates Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, Ricardo Chaves, Tim Keller, Brian Colón, Dan Lewis and Gus Pedrotty said they’d end the practice. So did write-in candidate Stella Padilla.

Michelle Garcia Holmes supports the practice, and Wayne Johnson said he’d stop the program until it can be changed to protect innocent owners. Johnson also said he opposes the “policing for profit” model where the profits of the seizures go to the police agency that seized the vehicles.

We’ve included their answers verbatim below.

Susan Wheeler-Deichsel

“I would stop the practice, particularly with respect to seizing the vehicles of those who are not convicted.”

Ricardo Chaves

“I oppose civil asset forfeiture, the sale by the city of vehicles owned by accused drunk drivers, until the person is actually convicted. Those who have not yet been convicted of a crime should remain secure in their right to property.”

Tim Keller

While every case should be weighed individually, the city’s policy on civil asset forfeiture should be in line with the state’s, only upon conviction, and we should not be seizing assets to help balance the budget.”

Brian Colón

“As the Mayor of Albuquerque, I would immediately end the practice of civil asset forfeiture. In a Colón administration, APD will stop seizing the vehicles of people arrested for DWI who have not yet been convicted.

“The City of Albuquerque’s DWI forfeiture program is in conflict with New Mexico state law and as a result should be immediately terminated. From a constitutional perspective, seizing assets from an individual who has not been convicted of a criminal offense without due process of law cannot be justified and exceeds the original intent of the asset seizure law which was focused on drug trafficking conducted by organized crime.

“Safeguards must exist to protect constitutional rights. The forfeiture process must provide constitutional protections to insure accountability and transparency. The New Mexico legislature unanimously passed a bill where law enforcement officials are only allowed to keep seized assets if the owner is convicted of or pleads guilty to a crime. New Mexico District Court has ruled against the validity of the City of Albuquerque’s DWI forfeiture program due to the lack of legal procedural protections for the owners of the seized assets.”

Dan Lewis

“I will not continue the program. There are more effective ways to stop repeat DWI offenders without the unintended consequences of auto seizures, where often the rightful owners of vehicles are penalized instead of the offender.”

Wayne Johnson

“I sponsored the county’s DWI seizure ordinance. The county version guarantees that if you have not been convicted of a first offense, your vehicle cannot be taken on the second arrest.

“Further, it has an innocent owner provision that protects both businesses and those who are unaware of a driver of their vehicle’s DWI conviction. Proceeds are restricted to enforcement and prevention and cannot be used for other purposes.

“Under these conditions, I support vehicle seizure. I do not support nor would I operate a “policing for profit” scheme where profits for vehicle seizures are funneled to the arresting agency for any other use than the administrative costs of the program and drug and alcohol prevention programs. I would halt the program until these parameters can be built into the city’s ordinance.”

Gus Pedrotty

“Civil forfeiture, without conviction, is something I will end. There are many ways to combat DWI, and the problematic features of civil forfeiture, while seemingly convenient and easy to overlook, do not create an effective, long-term, and fair solution to the problem. The appeal process that allows one to reclaim their vehicle is not equally accessible for all communities.

“As it stands, this is a punitive and regressive policy that is contradictory to our goal of having a restorative justice system — we should be wary of any policing-for-profit model. With conviction, and the due-process we are all entitled to, punishments can be addressed.

“However, this process currently disadvantages already financially strained communities over comfortable ones (and DWI occurs in all groups), as seen in legal gray areas in U.S. Supreme Court rulings. I favor tough stances on DWI — but this is not the answer to the epidemic in our state, and we must move forward with better solutions.”

Michelle Garcia Holmes

“No, I would not end the forfeiture practice. It is another tool in the toolbox for crime prevention. I would like to see this practice be utilized in other cases as well, including drug and human trafficking cases.”

Stella Padilla

“I believe you need to be convicted of DWI before the police can take your vehicle, sell it and keep the money for themselves. As Albuquerque is now a haven for criminals, including the ones in law enforcement, the citizens can now be victimized at a whim.

“The law is definitely set up to protect the criminal, so the corrupt system can now pick and choose WHICH car THEY decide would bring in the bigger buck. It’s a racket, nothing more elegant than that.

“Please don’t misunderstand my position with the police because I have interviewed many on the streets during SWAT situations and other crime scenes. I feel desperately sorry for the true law-abiding police that have to take the public’s ridicule, disdain, anger, and opposition all in the name of making a decent living wage in this god-forsaken city.

“Also, when did it become legal to condemn anyone without a trial? ONLY IN NEW MEXICO. Smooth criminals… otherwise crime would not pay.

“The city of Albuquerque is not ignoring the state law,” according to City Attorney Do-Little. City Attorney Jessica Hernandez’s position is that “Before the new law took effect, a state court judge ruled that the city is exempt from the state law. The judge based that ruling on a portion of the law that did not change. The city will continue using every legal option it has to protect the community from repeat DWI offenders.”

“Without an actual conviction it’s absurd to say ‘repeat DWI offenders’. If City Attorney Hernandez claims a judge can ignore state law because of a city ordinance… then we’re not talking about the same thing anymore. A reported 8,369 vehicles have been seized by the city and they’ve collected more than $8.3 million in forfeiture revenues between 2010-2016, roughly 1,000 cars a year. It’s a scam.”

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

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  • Rob
    August 11, 2017, 12:07 pm

    An excellent question. Thanks to the candidates for responding. Very helpful to hear their positions.

    REPLY
  • Simon Prophet
    August 14, 2017, 3:02 am

    Why end civil asset forfeiture when it can be used to clean up 911. You want suspicion then this video is full of suspected ill gotten gains, murderous treacherous disgusting a disgrace to the American people. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A9ph-Jz7L4 When is Sessions going to swing into action here against Donald Trump’s good friend? Civil asset forfeiture is a scam. Real criminals on the side of government gangster thugs are untouched because you as the ordinary man in the street have no say in who gets attacked and who doesn’t and that’s why it’s not civil. Civil asset forfeiture is a crime against humanity. http://www.simonprophet.com/

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Albuquerque’s definitive alternative newspaper publishing an inquisitive, modern approach to the news and entertainment stories that matter most to New Mexicans. ABQ Free Press’ fresh voice speaks to insightful and involved professionals who care deeply about our community.

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