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Roswell City Council amends Forfeiture Act

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The Roswell City Council has gotten behind an amendment to the state’s forfeiture law that would allow municipalities to recoup the costs of storage of property confiscated in criminal cases.

The City Council voted 8-0 Thursday in favor of Resolution 17-44, a resolution calling for an amendment to the state’s Forfeiture Act.

According to the New Mexico State Treasurer’s Office, the Forfeiture Act was passed during a legislative session in 2015.

However, according to the city of Roswell, the Forfeiture Act has had costly and unintended consequences to local law enforcement.

Earlier this year, Senate Bill 202 was introduced to address these concerns. The City Council resolution noted Senate Bill 202 received unanimous support from the Senate and later passed the House Judiciary Committee. However, it was never called up for a vote on the House floor.

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The City Council also added that current language of the law doesn’t allow jurisdictions to recoup cost of storage or transfer of materials to the state. Instead, all proceeds of the sale of forfeited items are transferred to the state’s general fund.

The Treasurer’s Office lists on its website, nmsto.gov, that the purpose of the Forfeiture Act was to make uniform standards and procedures for the process, to protect people’s constitutional rights, to deter criminal activity by reducing its economic incentives, to increase pecuniary loss from criminal activity, to protect against wrongful forfeiture and to ensure that only criminal forfeiture is allowed.

Roswell’s city councilors said they support the amendment and request the state Legislature to support legislation that would correct the unintended consequences of the 2015 amendments to the Forfeiture Act to address federal equitable sharing, storage of abandoned property and to expand local authority to seize and dispose of forfeited property, while preserving due process protections.

According to a fiscal impact report of Senate Bill 202 prepared by the Legislative Finance Committee, the amendments to the Forfeiture Act adopted in 2015 effectively took the financial incentive out of police asset forfeiture by forcing all seized money and assets into the state’s general fund.

The law currently states “a law enforcement agency shall not retain forfeited or abandoned property.”

“SB 202 removes this prohibition, arguably opening the door to the incentives and abuses once noted and claimed by forfeiture critics and activists,” states the LFC report. “SB 202 does require that any remaining balance of the proceeds of the sale of forfeited or disclaimed property shall be deposited in the general fund.”