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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Stop Seizing Cars, Senators Tell Albuquerque

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) - Two state senators asked a New Mexico court for a quick judgment in their lawsuit against Albuquerque, which they say is continuing to civilly forfeit vehicles, though the Legislature outlawed the practice last year.

Civil forfeitures, aka "policing for profit," gained widespread attention in 2014 when a video of the Santa Fe Vehicle Forfeiture Conference was posted on the Internet, showing attorneys discussing the profitability of the practice. The video sparked public outrage, and in March 2015 the Legislature passed the Forfeiture Reform Law - the Senate vote was unanimous. House Bill 560 took effect in July 2015 and bans most forms of civil forfeiture in New Mexico.

But Albuquerque continued doing it and plans to expand. State Sens. Lisa Torraco and Daniel Ivey-Soto sued the city in November 2015, saying the city has "approved $2.5 million in new bonds to purchase a larger parking lot to hold all the cars the city expects to seize."

In their Nov. 18 complaint in Bernalillo County Court, Torraco and Ivey-Soto said that Albuquerque had seized more than 8,300 cars from 2010 to 2014 - approximately one care for every 66 residents in the city - and collected over $8.3 million."

Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez submitted an answer to the complaint on Dec. 18, saying the city's "nuisance abatement vehicle program" targets only repeat DWI and drivers license revocation offenders.

Torraco and Ivey-Soto followed up on Jan. 20 with a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings . They reiterates that the aim of H.B. 560 was to "ensure that only criminal forfeiture is allowed in [New Mexico]" and that the city's answer "admits that it continues to take property using civil forfeiture from people accused (but not convicted) ... [a]nd Albuquerque also admits that it continues to retain forfeiture proceeds for use by law enforcement - including to pay law enforcement salaries - and even plans for those proceeds in its annual budget."

Torraco, a Republican, and Ivey-Soto, a Democrat, then cite Albuquerque's civil forfeiture ordinance by chapter and verse, and specify how it violates state law. They seek a speedy judgment from the court and an order forcing Albuquerque to cease all civil forfeiture.

None of the parties could be reached for comment by phone over the weekend.

The senators are represented by C. Brad Lane-Cates of Fairacres, and by Robert Frommer and Robert Everett Johnson from the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.

Albuquerque's crime rate is among the highest in the nation. Its rate of 774 violent crimes per 100,000 population was more than twice the national average of 368 in 2013, according to FBI statistics and the Albuquerque Journal. New Mexico led the nation that year in aggravated assaults per capita, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Home burglary is a particularly noxious problem, Albuquerque residents told Courthouse News, including repeat burglaries. Often, after jewelry or other easily carried and fenced items are stolen, the burglars will return in a month or so, presuming that insurance money has enabled the victim to replace it, and they will steal it again.

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