SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) - New Mexico will stop seizing money and property under civil forfeiture laws on mere suspicion that it is linked to crime, under a bill signed Friday by Gov. Susana Martinez.
House Bill 560, to take effect in July, forbids civil forfeitures in cases where a crime is only suspected; a conviction or a guilty plea will be required.
Seizures by civil forfeiture increased greatly in the 1980s as part of the Reagan administration's war on drugs. In one notable case, the government seized a yacht after part of a marijuana joint was found on it.
In recent years, police departments and sheriff's offices across the country have been criticized for seizing cash and property on suspicion of criminal links, and using the money and auction proceeds to build up their coffers.
Albuquerque police seize cars from suspected drunken drivers, and last November began seizing them from men suspected of trying to pick up prostitutes, "landing seven cars during a one-night sting," The New York Times reported.
Martinez praised the bill for protection civil and constitutional rights, but said she objects to the term "policing for profit," often used by critics of the practice.
ACLU of Mexico executive director Peter Simonson called the bill-signing "a good day for the Bill of Rights."
"For years police could seize people's cash, cars, and houses without even accusing anyone of a crime. Today, we have ended this unfair practice in New Mexico and replaced it with a model that is just and constitutional."
Spokespersons for groups on both sides of the issue did not return requests for comment over the weekend.
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