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Good news! A federal judge has ruled that New Mexico’s civil forfeiture law is unconstitutional.
Federal judge James O. Browning found that seizing property from those suspected of a crime, even before a legal judgment had been rendered, violated the property owner’s legal right to the presumption of innocence. The law placed the burden on citizens to absolve themselves from crimes of which they’re accused, even if they had not been charged. He also held that the program’s funds collection, which bankrolls its budget, enticed law enforcement officials to work for personal benefit rather than for civilian protection.
“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,” Browning, who sits on the District Court of New Mexico, wrote in an order Saturday.
Hopefully this is only the beginning. Civil forfeiture, which is really nothing more than theft by government, violates the plain language of the Fifth amendment to the Constitution.That federal and state officials have been able to get away with it for the last few decades in unconscionable.