It is called the civil asset forfeiture law and New Mexico just put an end to this corrupt practice that turns cops into thieves. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez just signed a bill into law that will materially alter the practice in her state taking away much of the incentive that corrupted the rule.
The law seemed like a good idea decades ago when it was first proposed. The idea was to give cops the ability to quickly seize the property of drug dealers who were arrested so that they wouldn’t have the cash on hand–or the ability to liquidate assets–to help them get away with drug dealing.
But what ended up happening in practice is that cops simply started stealing the money and property of nearly everyone they came in contact with defeating the whole purpose of this law as a tool against drug dealers.
In essence, forfeiture laws ended up turning police into outright criminals.
But now these laws are finally starting to fall out of favor and New Mexico joined that trend by materially altering its forfeiture practice.
“As an attorney and career prosecutor, I understand how important it is that we ensure safeguards are in place to protect our constitutional rights,” Martinez said in a letter announcing her decision. “On balance, the changes made by this legislation improve the transparency and accountability of the forfeiture process and provide further protections to innocent property owners.”
Civil asset forfeiture is a practice where police can seize your property and keep it even if they don’t convict or charge you with a crime. Then, you must go through the difficult, and often unsuccessful process to get your property–whether it’s a vehicle, cash or your home–back from the police.
The new law makes two important changes:
1. Currently, when police seize property they can keep it even if you are innocent. Under the new law, police can still take property from you for a short period, but would need a conviction or a guilty plea in order to keep it.
2. The law changes the incentive structure for police. Under the new law, if police do get a guilty verdict and your property is forfeited, it goes to the state’s general fund rather than the police department’s budget. The difference at least adds a layer of bureaucracy and oversight between police and the funds they seize.
This is a good move. Let’s hope that all other states take notice and follow suit. Civil asset forfeiture laws are an abomination and turns cops into thieves with no regard for private property rights. This has always been a direct violation of the US Constitution and the spirit of our American property rights.
The author of this piece is Warner Todd Huston and apparently he’s okay with cops seizing people’s property, so long as the state inserts a middleman into the process so the proceeds don’t stay in the hands of the cops.
Governor Martinez would have reason to be proud of herself had she repealed or voided this law. Simply adding another person to the flow chart is not ‘further protection’.