[Ed. – This is good news. Where there is probable cause for a warrant, I don’t have a problem with freezing assets while investigations are underway. But in too many cases, what’s being enforced is out-and-out asset forfeiture, against which never-convicted defendants have no recourse. It’s just not more important to seize assets from the unconvictable than it is to protect the rights of the innocent.]
A federal judge has ruled that Albuquerque’s civil asset forfeiture program violated residents’ due process rights by forcing them to prove their innocence to retrieve their cars. Under civil forfeiture laws, police can seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner isn’t charged with a crime.
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,” U.S. District Judge James O. Browning wrote in an order filed Saturday. “Thus, there is a ‘realistic possibility’ that forfeiture officials’ judgment ‘will be distorted by the prospect of institutional gain’—the more revenues they raise, the more revenues they can spend.”
The Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, filed the lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of Arlene Harjo, whose car was seized after her son drove it while drunk.