Asset Forfeiture

Great News: New Mexico's Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Signed by Governor

Actual criminal conviction will be required to take citizens' property.

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"Somebody get Rand Paul's campaign on the phone, ASAP."
N.M. State Government

Waiting to pretty much the last possible moment, Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has signed into law House Bill 560, the state's broad asset forfeiture reform legislation. The bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Zachary Cook, had complete bipartisan approval in the state's split House (controlled by Republicans) and Senate (controlled by Democrats). Nobody voted against it. But the governor's background was in criminal justice (she was a district attorney), and she was not signaling whether she'd go against law enforcement's wishes and curtail their ability to take people's property without having to prove a crime happened. Here's how I described the bill earlier in the week while we worried about its future:

It eliminated the concept of "civil" asset forfeiture, meaning law enforcement agencies would have to actually convict people of crimes to take their assets. It also requires all proceeds from asset forfeitures by law enforcement agencies to be put into the state's general fund. This is important because it reduces police incentives to engage in reckless forfeiture efforts, because they'd no longer be able to keep what they grab. It also means that the law enforcement agencies wouldn't be able to bypass state law by turning to the Department of Justice's Equitable Sharing Program. The program lets local law enforcement agencies keep seized assets by partnering with federal agencies, but it requires the locals to have their own funds for them. House Bill 560 (pdf) would forbid law enforcement agencies from retaining any forfeited property.

If Martinez didn't sign the bill into law today it would have been the same as vetoing it. The legislature is no longer in session. Supporters would have been forced to reintroduce the bill next session (meaning next  year).

In her letter (pdf) announcing that she had signed the bill into law, she tries to have it both ways, declaring her support for constitutional protections of property but also casting aspersions toward those who call asset forfeiture "policing for profit":

House Bill 560 (HB 560) makes numerous changes to the asset forfeiture process used by law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. As an attorney and career prosecutor, I understand how important it is that we ensure safeguards are in place to protect our constitutional rights. 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.

For these reasons, I have signed HB 560. However, I must make it clear that "policing for profit" is an overused, oversimplified, and cynical term that, in my opinion, disrespects our law enforcement officers. These heroes in our communities take on extraordinary risk, face incredible harm, and operate with tremendous courage, and this catch phrase improperly questions their motives and disregards their desire to serve and protect.

It is also dangerous to discount the role that funds acquired through forfeitures have played in keeping our communities safe and in protecting our officers from harm. We cannot allow this new law to undermine our efforts to combat crime throughout this state. With the passage of this legislation, it is more critical than ever before that every county and municipality, as well as the state legislature, makes a stronger commitment to fully fund our law enforcement agencies so that they can continue undertaking complex investigations, protecting the public, and protecting themselves while doing so.

The organizations behind the push—The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the free-market research institute Rio Grande Foundation, the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance, and the asset forfeiture-fighters of the Institute for Justice—sent out an immediate jubilant press release:

"This is a good day for the Bill of Rights," said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. "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."

"With this law, New Mexico leads the nation in protecting the property rights of innocent Americans," said Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation. "Convicted criminals will still see the fruits of their crime confiscated by the state, but innocent New Mexicans can now rest easy knowing that their property will never be seized by police without proper due process."

"New Mexico has succeeded today in reigning in one of the worst excesses of the drug war," said Emily Kaltenbach, State Director for Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico office "Like other drug war programs, civil asset forfeiture is disproportionately used against poor people of color who cannot afford to hire lawyers to get their property back. This law is an important step towards repairing some of the damage the drug war has inflicted upon our society and system of justice."

"New Mexico has shown that ending policing for profit is a true bipartisan issue with broad public support," said Lee McGrath, Legislative Counsel for the Institute of Justice. "America is ready to end civil asset forfeiture, a practice which is not in line with our values or constitution. This law shows that we can be tough on crime without stripping property away from innocent Americans."

Maybe some other states will follow suit.

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70 responses to “Great News: New Mexico's Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Signed by Governor

  1. Wait – WHAT?!

    This is a setup for another, later, Friday nut punch, isn’t it, Shackford!

    Hah! Nice try….

    *reflexively touches groinal region to ensure cup still in place*

    1. I went looking for a “My testicles are dropping!” clip from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but could not find it.

      Yes, it’s like Groundhog Day for them, and they are wondering if it’s safe to come out.

      1. Yeah – I thought it might be better after Balko left, God love him….

        Nope. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow….

        1. You just have to make the Kevlar cup part of your daily dressing routine. My balls ached for the first couple of years coming here but I got rid of all my usual underwear and started wearing only jockstraps. Putting one on every day reminds you to wear the cup. For formal events I have simply switched to a stainless steel codpiece. Or should I say Whalepiece! I never forget my “Reason Protection”.

  2. Wow, maybe New Mexico is slowly on its way to becoming our true Liberty State. I might have to go check it out.

    1. Don’t hold your breath. The governor makes it crystal clear that she despises it and wouldn’t sign it if she had some choice. She gives a great quote, “I must make it clear that ‘policing for profit’ is an overused, oversimplified, and cynical term that, in my opinion, disrespects our law enforcement officers. These heroes…”

      – overused – Sadly, you’re right Gov. I’ll make you a deal, if the cops stop doing it, people will stop using the term too much.

      – oversimplified – Sadly you’re right. Referring to their profit-seeking activities as “policing” is an oversimplification.

      – cynical – Yes, we distrust the sincerity and integrity of the cops who are taking people’s money.

      – disrespects our LEOs – You noticed that? Congratulations. Good to know we weren’t being too subtle.

      – heroes taking on extraordinary risk, facing incredible harm, etc. – well if that excuses steeling some of people’s money, then soldiers and crab fisherman should be able to steal all of people’s money

      – questions their motives – Yes, I think we have been crystal clear that we are questioning their motives.

      Basically, she makes it crystal clear that she only signed because her back was against the wall. She doesn’t want it and she will do as little as she possibly can to enforce it.

      1. Oh that’s hilarious and an infuriating kind of way.

        “I must make it clear that ‘policing for profit’ is an overused, oversimplified, and cynical term that, in my opinion, disrespects our law enforcement officers.

        And for a second there I thought she was going to describe how it’s a cynical and overused practice by law enforcement that disresects and undermines legitimate law… and then she went and jumped the shark.

      2. And she also said, ” we’re going to get your money anyway”.

        “It is also dangerous to discount the role that funds acquired through forfeitures have played in keeping our communities safe and in protecting our officers from harm. We cannot allow this new law to undermine our efforts to combat crime throughout this state. With the passage of this legislation, it is more critical than ever before that every county and municipality, as well as the state legislature, makes a stronger commitment to fully fund our law enforcement agencies so that they can continue undertaking complex investigations, protecting the public, and protecting themselves while doing so.”

    2. I would have bet against her signing it. So, that’s good news.

      But her cop-sucking statement manages to drain most of the good from the news.

      What a foul creature she has shown herself to be.

      1. Now that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Drains most of the goodwill one might feel for her, but the news is still pretty good.

        1. It’s pretty difficult to drain something that’s empty.

      2. Would you rather it be the other way around – say what you want and veto the bill? I’d say signing it and then polishing the law enforcement knobs is a good compromise. She would be smart to run for Senate in 2016 (I think?) and needs all the votes she could get.

      3. Maybe I just don’t have my lace panties on today, but I would sure like to have a politician who could just do something, without greasing the pole of every jackbooted authoritarian, wannabe Gestapo, and oily lying cocksucker within earshot.

        I guess that’s too much to ask.

        1. Reality is more important than words. If the bill limits asset forfeiture I don’t care if she blew every LEO in attendance after the signing. Talk from politicians is 100% meaningless dribble, it is actions which alone matter.

    3. Um, no. We don’t call it the Land of Entrapment for nothing. Great weather and scenery, though.

  3. Holy shit an anti-nutpunch?

    1. IT’S A TRAP!!!

      1. *agrees, scurries into bunker*

        An actual small step back toward liberty?!

    2. We’re being honey-dicked!

      1. One day a young man and woman were in their bedroom making love. All of a sudden a bumblebee entered the bedroom window.

        As the young lady parted her legs the bee entered her vagina. The woman started screaming “Oh my God, help me, there’s a bee in my vagina!” The husband immediately took her to the local doctor and explained the situation.

        The doctor thought for a moment and said “Hmm, tricky situation. But I have a solution to the problem if young sir would permit.” The husband being very concerned agreed that the doctor could use whatever method to get the bee out of his wife’s vagina.

        1. The doctor said “OK, what I’m gonna do is rub some honey over the top of my penis and insert it into your wife’s vagina. When I feel the bee getting closer to the tip of my penis I shall withdraw it and the bee should hopefully follow my penis out of your wife’s vagina. The husband nodded and gave his approval.

          The young lady said “Yes, Yes, whatever, just get on with it.” So the doctor, after covering the tip of his penis with honey, inserted it into the young lady’s vagina.

          After a few gentle strokes, the doctor said, “I don’t think the bee has noticed the honey yet. Perhaps I should go a bit deeper.” So the doctor went deeper and deeper. After a while the doctor began shafting the young lady very hard indeed. The young lady began to quiver with excitement. She began to moan and groan aloud.

          1. The doctor, concentrating very hard, looked like he was enjoying himself, he then put his hands on the young lady’s breasts and started making loud noises. The husband at this point suddenly became very annoyed and shouted, “Now wait a minute! What the Hell do you think you’re doing?”

            The doctor, still concentrating, replied, “Change of plan. I’m gonna drown the bastard!”

  4. A very interesting concept, this due process. Has it been used in other countries before?

      1. Well, interesting that we’re trying this test here. I wonder whether New Mexico will collapse into utter chaos?

  5. I’d completely disallow governmental acquisition of property by forfeiture, regardless of its owners’ criminality. Pass it to the perpetrator’s next of kin. But this is an unbelievably awesome development, either way. You go, NM.

    1. Yes, even with due process, it can create a bad incentive for the government to convict if there’s money to be grabbed.

      1. it’s often a violation of the 8th’s excessive fines too. if the underlying drug offense has a max fine of say, $10K, you shouldn’t be able to seize a $60K BMW because it had some tenuous connection to the underlying crime (like simply driving it at the time of arrest). and that’s especially true of cash seizures – how does LE get to seize 100% of the cash on hand without demonstrating that none of it was legitimate?

        1. I definitely don’t like the government benefiting from any fines or penalties, as that creates very bad and corrupting incentives. That goes for things like speeding tickets, too.

          1. Exactly. Every time a government agent levies a fine, the Due Censor should break one of his fingers. To make sure he’s serious.

            1. “Look, if the government really deserves the money, then you’ll be willing to let me break all of your fingers first, right?”

        2. According to the ancient theory on which forfeiture is based (which Reason did a great article on ~25 yrs. ago), the guilt is in the thing itself, so it’s not the owner of the BMW being fined. But one thing the article never explained is how the deodand’s guilt is expiated by its passing thru the sovereign’s hands.

  6. If only there was a document that specified that individuals’ property rights were to be respected, thereby eliminating the need for specific laws…………

    1. You mean like some sort of regulation promulgated by the FTC?

      1. REASONABLE, common-sense regulation, sure. Who could disagree with that?

        1. Certainly not me. We need some sort of due process czar, who applies this novel doctrine whenever and wherever he sees fit.

          1. Outstanding idea. A Censor with sweeping autocratic powers whose job it is to ensure due process.

            1. Yes, we could combine the offices. I envision a Censor/Due Process Czar breaking the fingers of an official, one at a time, until an appropriate hearing is held.

              1. “See? [breaks finger] This is why [breaks finger] we call for speedy [breaks finger] trials. Now [breaks finger], am I going to have to start [breaks finger] on the other hand, or are you going to schedule the fucking trial?”

                1. And if that doesn’t work, toes, ribs, etc.

  7. Someone wants to be Paul’s running mate.

    1. I can think of plenty of worse choices. Of course, it can be hard to evaluate the record of someone who faced a hostile state legislature for most of her term, but she generally seems to have a good record.

      1. she failed to veto a bill that had 100% bipartisan support of the legislature that sent it to her and bitched while she did it.

        You would be crazy to trust a former District Attorney as a champion of liberty.

        1. I was going to point out Calvin Coolidge, but then checked & saw he was never a DA as I’d assumed.

  8. Ah, for once a politician supports freedom while dropping some purely rhetorical concessions to the anti-freedom forces.

    Usually it’s the other way around – they step all over our freedoms while uttering soothing noises about How Deeply They Care About Our Free Institutions.

  9. Your ‘heroes’ perform way too many citizen abortions, you entitled cunt.

    1. Not to mention government sanctioned ass rapes.

  10. It truly says something about the weakness of our civil liberties that civil forfeiture of people never convicted (often never even charged) of a crime has been able to continue for so long. It’s probably the single worst form of blatant government theft in American “law”.

  11. Didn’t see that coming. Good deal.

  12. The DemocratsandRepublicans do not give up power. I have not seen a voluntary surrendering of such power in all my days. I cannot recall a time when the Party fell into conflict with the police agencies. It’s like I’ve been transported to an alternative universe.

    I would expect a Party purge in New M.

  13. “However, I must make it clear that “policing for profit” is an overused, oversimplified, and cynical term that, in my opinion, disrespects our law enforcement officers.”

    bwahahahahaha! …Oh, sorry, you’re serious.

    1. I think that is the rhetorical balm for the now less-able-to-be-highwaymen cops.

    2. True. Most people just call it “theft”.

  14. It is also dangerous to discount the role that funds acquired through forfeitures have played in keeping our communities safe and in protecting our officers from harm.

    Uh. It is even more dangerous to discount the role that the incentive to acquire funds through forefeitures have led police to pervert justice and prey on innocent people and giving them the sense that they are a priviledged elite who may harm others with impunity.

  15. I had to hit myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. When was the last time politicians acted to reduce their own power?

  16. So the governor in this scenario is king John and the forfeiture reform bill was the Magna Carta.

    She signed it, but I guess she was none too happy about it.

  17. Next order of business: journalist shield law. To protect the first amendment!

    1. No. We don’t need more privileges to be doled out by the government to favored people and groups, in exchange for their complicity with the government.

      1. That was a jo- I say that was a joke, son.

  18. Right around the time Scott Walker initiated the “right to work” movements and the tea party was at it height, it was common to hear someone like Joe Biden say something like “They want to cut spending on police and put our neighborhood at risk”.

    What’s sad is that if most of the mass shooters and the recent victims of police shootings were white, nothing would change. Cops do shoot unarmed white folks and homeless people (justified or not), and they receive almost no media coverage.

    1. I just happened to hear the numbers today on the radio. Working on memory it was like 140 blacks last year and 340 whites.

      Those numbers aren’t exact but the proportions are close.

  19. Finally! This business of using Kristallnacht pillaging and looting dressed up as “forfeitures” to shore up support for sumptuary and prohibitionist enactments was beginning to reek. This–more than anything else–is to blame for economic crashes and depressions since 1932. Look up Senator John Glenn, Republican of Illinois–the one who was a prohibitionist when the astronaut John Glenn was still a kid. He proposed total confiscation laws for victimless crime when Herbert Hoover was president.

  20. Finally! This business of using Kristallnacht pillaging and looting dressed up as “forfeitures” to shore up support for sumptuary and prohibitionist enactments was beginning to reek. This–more than anything else–is to blame for economic crashes and depressions since 1932. Look up Senator John Glenn, Republican of Illinois–the one who was a prohibitionist when the astronaut John Glenn was still a kid. He proposed total confiscation laws for victimless crime when Herbert Hoover was president.

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