Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, along with Albuquerque’s city council, attempted to use the city’s “public nuisance” ordinance to justify permanently seizing the car of anyone accused of a DWI.

The proposed law would have allowed the city to seize the car of anyone suspected of a DWI, even first-time offenders. The ordinance didn’t require a conviction. The vehicle would have been seized when the suspect was stopped. He or she could then contest the seizure with a city hearing officer or agree to have an immobilizing “boot” placed on the vehicle for 30 days. To get the boot removed, offenders would have had to install an ignition interlock on the vehicle for six months or a year. In “extreme” cases, the city would simply refuse to deal, and sell the vehicle at auction.

The foundation helped to fund a broad legal challenge to the outrageous new law. In August 2005, the city and NMA Foundation allies went to court. The resulting decision by District Court Judge Theresa Baca struck down the ordinance.

In her decision, Baca cited “serious procedural due process problems” with the city’s law. Baca said her ruling was on constitutional grounds, and focused primarily on one sentence in the ordinance: “The city hearing officer shall only determine whether the law enforcement officer had probable cause to seize the vehicle.” The judge criticized the ordinance for failing to specify what the hearing officer would do to ensure that drivers have fair and timely hearings.

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