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The Champion

May 2019 , Page 22 

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Harjo v. City of Albuquerque: A Road Map for Challenging Government Forfeiture Programs

By Elizabeth A. Franklin-Best and David B. Smith

Every now and then an important case comes down offering a road map for how to approach thorny legal issues. Harjo v. City of Albuquerque is such a case.1 It offers lessons on how to successfully mount a due process challenge to forfeiture statutes or ordinances that exceed the constitutional limitations on “policing for profits.” The district court found that the city of Albuquerque created “an unconstitutional institutional incentive to prosecute forfeiture cases, because forfeiture revenues are set in a special fund, and the forfeiture program can spend, without meaningful oversight, all of the excess funds it raises from previous years.”2 

The Forfeiture Program

The city of Albuquerque had a forfeiture program3 that allowed it to seize vehicles for a DWI offense if the driver had a prior DWI arrest, summons, or conviction. Pursuant to this “Forfeiture Ordinance,” if someone other than the alleged offender owned the vehicle, the onus was on the owner to demonstrate by a preponderance

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