Big Victory on the Civil Forfeiture Front By The Institute For Justice.

The Institute for Justice scored a big victory in a Federal Court in Albuquerque, New Mexico ruled that civil forfeiture is unConstitutional.

While the ruling is not binding in all states, it does set up a precedent that others can argue in other jurisdictions.

Federal Judge James O. Browning found Albuquerque’s civil forfeiture program unconstitutional because the city’s ordinance violates the basic rule that citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Albuquerque places the burden on property owners to prove their own innocence. Independent of that, he also struck down the law because

funds raised by the program are used to fund the program’s budget, which gives law enforcement officials an incentive to police for profit, rather than justice. He wrote, “the City of Albuquerque has an unconstitutional institutional incentive to prosecute forfeiture cases, because, in practice, the forfeiture program sets its own budget and can spend, without meaningful oversight, all of the excess funds it raises from previous years.”

“Civil forfeiture” is when private property is seized by police and the government. While we have no issues with the government seizing profits and property from illegal enterprises, too many times the property is seized prior to any verdict of guilt against the property owner. That was the case when the City of Albuquerque seized the car of Arlene Harjo’s car when her son was arrested for driving under the influence.

The fight over civil forfeiture in Albuquerque began in 2015, when a series of videos uncovered by the Institute for Justice revealed that city attorneys across the state were engaging in widespread policing for profit. Following the release of the videos, the New Mexico state legislature unanimously passed landmark legislation outlawing civil forfeiture. Despite that groundbreaking legislation, Albuquerque law enforcement officials continued to seize and sell hundreds of cars each year—including Arlene Harjo’s Nissan Versa.

The city claimed it could take Arlene’s car because her son, Tino, asked to borrow her car to drive to the gym in the middle of the day, but then took the car for a day-long trip and was found that evening allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. Arlene does not approve of drunk driving; if Tino broke the law, she agrees he should be punished. But the city seized her car, and she did not see why she should be punished for something she did not do and never condoned.

One of the problems in cases like this was that the owner of the property was said not to have standing to sue for the return of their property. Even if the owners won, they still had to have paid thousands of dollars in legal costs and fees just to get their property back, which meand that the process was part of the punishment for the property owner.

The Judge Browning’s ruling can be read here.

The Institute for Justice has a study on just how insidious these types of civil forfeiture actions are called “Policing for Profit” which can be downloaded for free.

Or if you are more of a visual person, the IJ has a video on the issue.

Kudos and a huge “atta’ gang!” to the fine folks at the Institute for Justice.

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