New Mexican citizens have greatly suffered from civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture, the seizure of property suspected of involvement in criminal activity, is a national problem. It is problematic because many property owners lose their property without due process, oftentimes resulting in the unfair seizure of innocent owners’ property. In addition to this issue, New Mexico’s juvenile justice system was struggling and had a high rate of recidivism.
Recognizing the injustice in this circumstance, former Governor Susana Martinez (R) signed a 2015 law which revised seizure and forfeiture procedures to require that asset forfeiture be followed by criminal proceedings, banning asset forfeiture in civil cases. New Mexico also now allows for innocent owners to claim interest in confiscated property.
Twenty-nineteen was a big year for criminal justice reform in New Mexico. In 2019, lawmakers passed legislation that appropriates funds to rehabilitative programs for juvenile offenders, specifically to the juvenile justice facilities program and the Juvenile Public Safety Advisory Board. The juvenile justice facilities program provides medical, educational, and mental health services to youth within the justice system and the Juvenile Public Safety Advisory Board intends to monitor the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents and promote therapy and support services so as to reduce juvenile recidivism.
Building on the 2015 asset forfeiture law, a 2019 bill was passed to correct some of the loopholes in the 2015 bill and completely ban civil asset forfeiture. New Mexico also passed a bill in 2019 that allows people with a criminal record to clear their name. This new law lets certain low-level offenders apply to seal their records so that they can more easily find and keep a job.
These laws protect innocent people from the seizure of property without a criminal conviction, help reduce juvenile recidivism, and make it possible for ex-offenders to move on from their lives in prison. By becoming the first state to outlaw civil asset forfeiture, New Mexico has inspired other states like Nebraska and Maryland to enact similar legislation.
Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.