In an unprecedented move heralded by advocates across the political spectrum, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) signed a bill to abolish civil asset forfeiture on Friday. In case you’re unaware, civil asset forfeiture allows the police to seize your property and keep it, even if they don’t charge or convict you with a crime. The law signed by Martinez changes this unjust practice in two key ways:
1. Currently, when police seize property they can keep it even if you are innocent. Under the new law, police can still take property from you for a short period, but would need a conviction or a guilty plea in order to keep it.
2. The law changes the incentive structure for police. Under the new law, if police do get a guilty verdict and your property is forfeited, it goes to the state’s general fund rather than the police department’s budget. The difference at least adds a layer of bureaucracy and oversight between police and the funds they seize.
Martinez released a statement on her decision to sign the legislature:
“As an attorney and career prosecutor, I understand how important it is that we ensure safeguards are in place to protect our constitutional rights,” Martinez said in a letter announcing her decision. “On balance, the changes made by this legislation improve the transparency and accountability of the forfeiture process and provide further protections to innocent property owners.”
Proponents of the law hope that it will encourage other states across the country to adopt their own reforms to civil forfeiture. In January, Sen. Rand Paul reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, which would curtail civil forfeiture at the federal level.