FILE - New Mexico Capitol Rotunda

The floor of the New Mexico state Capitol building rotunda is viewed Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Santa Fe, N.M. 

(The Center Square) – New Mexico is the only state to receive an “A” grade in a new report from a public interest law firm on states' civil asset forfeiture practices.

The libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice recently released the third addition of “Policing for Profit” detailing each state's laws regarding civil asset forfeiture, a practice which allows police to seize private property from individuals even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime. 

New Mexico’s “A” grade is a result of the state banning civil asset forfeiture in 2015, IJ said in the report. The state still allows forfeiture but requires a criminal conviction.  

The state also passed reforms requiring any proceeds from forfeitures go to the state’s general fund rather than to law enforcement agencies, and limited the state’s participation in the federal equitable sharing program, a practice that “allows state and local law enforcement to seize property locally and turn it over to federal prosecutors for forfeiture under federal law.” 

The IJ report found that between 2000 and 2019, New Mexico law enforcement brought in $51.1 million in forfeiture revenue, with a vast majority -- $50.8 million -- through the federal equitable sharing program.

Nationally, at least $68.8 billion has been seized by states and the federal government under civil asset forfeiture since 2000, IJ said.

The report also compared New Mexico’s crime rates after abolishing civil asset forfeiture with those of Colorado and Texas, which both still allow the practice in some form. 

IJ’s research “detected no significant increase in crime rates that could be attributed to [New Mexico’s] reforms, indicating the reforms had no negative effect on public safety—and strongly suggesting civil forfeiture is not an essential crimefighting tool.” 

The Arlington, Va.-based public law firm recommends other states follow New Mexico’s reforms.

“New Mexico’s experience shows that strong forfeiture reform does not sacrifice public safety,” said IJ Senior Research Analyst Jennifer McDonald, the report’s co-author. “As states and Congress look for ways to create a fairer criminal justice system, one reform everyone should be able to agree on is ending civil forfeiture and the perverse profit incentive that fuels it.” 

Regional Editor

Derek Draplin is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as an opinion producer at Forbes, and as a reporter at Michigan Capitol Confidential and The Detroit News. He’s also an editor at The Daily Caller.