ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For more than 10 years, the city of Albuquerque has been seizing cars from drunk drivers and selling them whether the driver owned the vehicle or not.
A federal judge has ruled those seizures are illegal.
in part, the federal judge ruled in favor of a mother calling the Albuquerque Police Department’s DWI seizure program “unconstitutional.”
Arlene Harjo has been fighting the city for the last two years after her car was taken when she wasn’t the one driving it. Harjo’s car was seized after her son borrowed her car, was pulled over and arrested for a DWI.
Harjo filed a lawsuit to get her car back and hopefully see an end to the city’s program.
In the suit, she stated the city’s program was nothing but a money maker for the city. She claims Albuquerque attorneys have “latitude when setting financial consequences” associated with each vehicle seizure.
In 2016, the year Harjo’s car was seized, the city’s program brought in nearly a half-million dollars.
Since 2005, APD has seized thousands of cars and it’s a practice that has been criticized for years. Drivers’ cars are taken after a second DWI arrest, or if they’re caught driving on a revoked license, and most often they’re sold at auction
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge James Browning ruled in favor of Harjo saying in part, “forfeiture personnel have an unconstitutional institutional incentive to prosecute forfeitures” and that the program violates a car owner’s due process.
In April, Mayor Tim Keller asked city council to update the city ordinance to require a conviction before anyone’s car is permanently taken.
KRQE News 13 asked the city how the new ruling affects the current ordinance. Keller’s office sent the following statement:
“This ruling confirms our concerns with the past approach and the need to protect the constitutional rights of people in our community. At the Mayor’s direction, the City’s Legal department has been working to update the program, including limiting it to cases where there has been a conviction based on the new state law. The City’s legal team will analyze the impact the ruling will have. Meanwhile, APD is focusing efforts on effectively combating drunk driving by doubling the number of traffic stops and increasing DWI checkpoints and saturation patrols,” said Alicia Manzano, Communications Director for the Mayor’s Office.