Asset Forfeiture in New Mexico: Know Your Rights
Changes to the Law
In 2015, House Bill 560 was signed into law in New Mexico ending civil asset forfeiture. This law also closed a loophole allowing law enforcement to pass cases off to the federal government to bypass the state law. Civil asset forfeiture once allowed law enforcement officers to seize personal property without charging or convicting a person of a crime.
Criminal Asset Forfeiture
Civil asset forfeiture has been replaced with criminal asset forfeiture in New Mexico. This means conviction of a crime is necessary before you can lose property connected to a crime. This gives New Mexico one of the strongest protections against wrongful asset seizures in the U.S.
Unfortunately, until as late as April 2018, some cities in New Mexico ignored or found ways to bypass the state law taking: vehicles, property, homes and bank accounts without convicting defendants of a crime.
A Slow Reform
Three years after House Bill 560 became law, the city of Albuquerque decided to comply with the reformed state law due to pressure from the public and precedents set by various legal cases. According to the April 2018 NM Political Report,
“Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller this week told city police officers to stop the city’s DWI vehicle seizure program. Under existing ordinance, the police department can impound vehicles after DWI arrests, but before the driver has been convicted. Keller called on the city council to permanently change the policy, but there are still pending lawsuits by people who allege the city violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by taking vehicles and then charging owners to release them.”
In the same Report, Emily Kaltenbach, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico office, said in a statement,
“Ridding our state of unconstitutional municipal civil asset forfeiture programs is just one more important step towards repairing some of the damage the drug war has inflicted upon our society and system of justice. Mayor Keller is leading on this issue and setting the right example for other municipalities across the state.”
Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) use civil asset forfeiture laws when investigating crimes. The right to do this has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, however they must send written notice to property owners within 60 days of property seizure.
As a property owner, you can send a claim to the Federal agency that seized the property. The government then has 90 days to file a formal civil complaint against you or to get a criminal indictment for a criminal forfeiture. If the government does not do this, they must release your property.
We Can Help
It’s not easy to negotiate recent changes in the law or understand where State and Federal laws intersect. If you have found yourself facing asset forfeiture and losing property that is rightfully yours, we can help. Erlinda Ocampo Johnson is an experienced Albuquerque criminal defense attorney who will fight aggressively to win your assets back.
Ms. Johnson will also work to make sure that your rights were respected throughout the seizure process. The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens against illegal search and seizure. She will examine your case to ensure no transgressions have been committed by overzealous law enforcement. Contact the Law Office of Erlinda Ocampo Johnson, LLC for thoughtful and fearless representation.