February 19, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

SANTA FE, NM—Today, Republican Representative Zachary J. Cook introduced a bill designed to end civil asset forfeiture—also known as “policing for profit”—in New Mexico. This unfair practice allows police to seize and keep property of citizens who haven’t even been charged with a crime, never mind convicted. Rep. Cook’s legislation would end the legal fiction of civil forfeiture—that property can be responsible for a crime—and replaces it with criminal forfeiture. Criminal forfeiture requires a conviction of a person as a prerequisite to losing property tied to the crime.

“Even in cases where a person has not been convicted, or even accused of a crime, the police can seize personal property and keep it for their own gain,” said Paul Gessing, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Foundation. “This practice should outrage any American who values the property rights guaranteed to them by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.”

Bipartisan legislation has already been introduced in both houses of Congress that would dramatically reform federal civil asset forfeiture laws. The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Angus King (I-ME) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). In the House, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) introduced an identical version of the FAIR Act.

STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT:

The bill to end civil asset forfeiture in New Mexico is supported by an ideologically diverse range of organizations including the Rio Grande Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance.

No one acquitted of a crime in criminal court should lose property through forfeiture in civil court. This legislation ensures New Mexico remains tough on crime. Guilty people will lose the fruits of their crime. Equally important, innocent people will keep the fruits of their labor.

- Lee U. McGrath, Legislative Counsel, Institute for Justice

Policing for profit is very much alive and well in New Mexico. In 2011, the ACLU of New Mexico took legal action after police seized thousands of dollars from a vacationing father and son, even though they were never even accused of a crime. Innocent people in New Mexico should never fear that law enforcement officers will strip them of their property without due process.

- Peter Simonson, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico

For decades civil asset forfeiture practices have robbed innocent people, taking money right out of their wallets—or even taking their home and their car—without even charging them with a crime. 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.

-       Emily Kaltenbach, State Director, Drug Policy Alliance

MORE ABOUT PROFILING FOR PROFIT IN NEW MEXICO:

Profiling for Profit? Cops Take $17K From Father, Son (ABQ Journal)

VIDEO: “Police Profiling for Profit in New Mexico” – An interview with civil asset forfeiture victim Stephen Skinner (YouTube)

Institute for Justice report on Policing for Profit in New Mexico

In depth investigation into civil asset forfeiture (Washington Post)

Sign Up for Breaking News