The state Senate has just passed a sweeping bill that would virtually eliminate the practice of civil asset forfeiture and on this issue leave New Mexico as the most Fifth Amendment-friendly state in the country.See Grits recent coverage of Texas forfeiture legislation and a Texas-specific example of conservative support for reform on the issue that tracks Balko's national perspective.
The bill would basically require a criminal conviction before police can take property associated with a crime. “Civil” asset forfeiture, by definition, allows law enforcement to seize and keep property without a criminal conviction. It often puts the onus on the property owner to “prove” that he or she obtained the property legitimately, or that it wasn’t used for criminal activity.
The bill was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the conservative think tank the Rio Grande Foundation, the Drug Policy Alliance and the libertarian law firm the Institute for Justice (IJ). In an e-mail, Peter Simonson of the ACLU-NM writes, “The sponsor was the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the bill had strong bipartisan support throughout the legislative process, passing both chambers unanimously.”
The bill was even praised by New Mexico resident Brad Cates, who headed up the Justice Department’s forfeiture office during the Reagan administration, the era when the more odious practices began.
Simpson's marijuana proposal - treat it like tomatoes - qualifies as radical. His proposal on asset forfeiture - that the government shouldn't take a man's property unless it convicts him of a crime - is common sense, Reaganesque conservatism for the working man.
Requiring a criminal conviction before one's assets can be seized is the kind of thing where, when you describe it in public, people respond, "isn't that already the law, already?" And when they learn it's not, nearly everyone thinks it should be. It's only prosecutors and law enforcement insiders who want forfeiture applied to people who the state cannot prove are criminals. And their support stems primarily from the fact that they're the ones who will get to spend most of the seized money.