By Casey Harper
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill to abolish civil asset forfeiture Friday.
She signed just before the noon deadline that would have pocket vetoed the legislation.
Civil asset forfeiture is a practice where police can seize your property and keep it even if they don’t convict or charge you with a crime. Then, you must go through the difficult, and often unsuccessful process to get your property–whether it’s a vehicle, cash or your home–back from the police.
The new law makes two important changes:
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.
New Mexico’s state legislature passed the bill March 21 just hours before the session closed. If the bill had been vetoed it would likely not gotten attention again for two years because of New Mexico’s short legislative sessions.