Sante Fe, N.M. – On Friday, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed the unanimous bipartisan legislation, H.B. 560, which effectively ends the practice of civil asset forfeiture in the state.
The practice of civil asset forfeiture has come under intense scrutiny as of late, as people are increasingly coming to the realization that civil forfeiture encourages policing for profit.
“Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear,” Robert O’Harrow and Steven Rich wrote in a report for the Washington Post. “They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.”
Budgets of police departments and drug task forces are being padded largely by a program that redistributes the worth of seized assets, including property and money that might never have been involved in a crime.
“The law was meant to decimate drug organizations, but The Post found that it has been used as a routine source of funding for law enforcement at every level,” the Post report stated.
Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, with civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime—or even charged—to permanently lose their cash, car, home or other property.
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It’s become clear that law enforcement agencies are pursuing forfeitures to boost their budgets at the expense of actual policing priorities.
To make matters worse, citizens bear the burden of establishing their innocence, effectively being looked at as guilty until proven innocent. For a citizen who has committed no crime to be forced to prove their property is rightfully theirs in order to regain possession, seems patently unjust.
With the new legislation, police must either convict you of a crime or prove that your property was utilized in the commission of a crime before being forfeited by the state.
In addition, the financial incentive for police agencies to seize property will be taken away, as the assets seized will no longer be allocated to police coffers, but will go directly into the state’s general fund.
If you're tired of policing for profit in your state and would like to see the same legislation in your area, make your voices heard. Please share this story to show others that progress can be made if we make it happen!
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay's work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.