When Laws Become Monstrosities05/04/2015- Editorial by Renee Wilkins
The ACLU and the RRTP are coming together on the issue of civil asset forfeiture. A couple of things should give us all pause when considering the significance of what is happening right now;
1. HB 560 was passed unanimously by the State House and Senate. All Democrats and Republicans agreed that a person’s property should not be forfeited unless they are convicted of a crime.
2. Two former Directors of the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Office, Brad Cates and John Yoder, are now working together to abolish civil asset forfeiture.
Why the change of heart? In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Cates and Yoder said “It’s particularly painful to watch as the heavy hand of government goes amok. The tactic has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits.”
At the last Governing Body meeting, a Rio Rancho City Councilor asked how the city got “blindsided” by HB 560, which passed just weeks after the Rio Rancho Governing Body approved its new civil asset forfeiture ordinance in a 4-2 vote. The implication seemed to be that there was some conspiracy occurring behind closed doors to push HB 560 through.
Anyone who’s been paying attention wasn’t surprised by HB 560. In 2014 Las Cruces City Attorney Harry S. Connelly Jr. made national headlines when videotaped at a conference giving tips on maximizing profits; “We always try to get, every once in a while, like maybe a good car," Connelly said at the conference. " ... This guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new. Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like 'Ahhhh.' And he gets out and he's just reeking of alcohol. And it's like, 'Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.'"
And for those who think it won’t affect them because they don’t drink and drive or deal drugs – pay attention. Around the country civil asset forfeiture laws are buried in the corpses of innocent owners who really were innocent. Property forfeited includes cash, cars and even homes. This is no longer about drunks or drug dealers. This is about the fundamental belief held in our Constitution that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The problem is fueled by city attorneys who want things quick and easy. Yes, it takes extra time, money and inconvenience to give the full due process of law. How much time and money will be wasted on defending this unjust and overreaching law? The Rio Rancho Governing Body can easily amend their new law to comply with HB 560 before the city ordinance goes into effect July 1st. It has not hurt anyone…yet.
You know a law has become a monstrosity when so many people on all ends of the spectrum come together to defeat it. The ACLU will be at our Tuesday, May 12th meeting to discuss what happens with civil asset forfeiture moving forward. Join us.