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APD to accept digital proof of auto insurance, Chief Eden says

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Electronic proof of auto insurance is now officially acceptable to offer during a traffic stop in Albuquerque, and possibly soon throughout the rest of Bernalillo County.

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden last week made it official that officers must accept digital proof of insurance, such as through an app or email, the same way they handle paper documentation. Until his special order, the decision to accept digital proof was left informally up to the officer’s discretion.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, which also operates on an informal policy regarding electronic proof of insurance, may follow APD’s path next week.

The change comes nearly a year after a state Court of Appeals ruling in a Farmington case in which a State Police officer issued a citation to attorney Brandt Thrower for not having proof of insurance, even though he produced electronic proof.

The court issued an opinion in June 2016, saying “we perceive of no meaningful difference between a hard copy of an insurance card and an electronic copy.” The opinion, which was unpublished, circulated mostly through attorney and judicial communities.

The opinion, written by now-retired Judge Michael Bustamante, also went on to say that even though the state’s law requiring vehicle insurance doesn’t expressly allow digital proof, it also doesn’t expressly prohibit it, meaning the law should be clear enough to officers and prosecutors that digital proof should meet the requirements.

Under informal policies in place in Bernalillo County, Santa Fe and other areas around the state, the decision has been left up officers, who might not know of the court’s ruling because it was unpublished.

“We’re very sad it isn’t known,” Thrower said from his office in Farmington on Wednesday. “Not only did I cite the officer the actual code; I was able to look it up on my phone, and his statement at the time was, ‘No, I don’t have to take that’ … and I told him OK, I’ll see him in court.”

Since Thrower’s case, State Police have implemented official policy accepting digital proof.

That policy addresses issues related to privacy – officers may not remove the phone from the view of the driver – and liability – officers should not hold the phone if possible; instead, the driver should hold the phone or other device while the officer views the information on the screen.

APD’s policy is modeled after the State Police policy, department spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said.

Chief Eden wrote in the order that there has been “confusion regarding the validity of electronic proof of insurance when it is provided during a traffic stop or encounter.” Now “personnel will accept” digital proof.

BCSO spokeswoman Deputy Felicia Romero said the office’s “Standard Operating Procedures review committee … will include this topic for review to ensure we are up to date in the matter” in a meeting next week.

Santa Fe police spokesman Greg Gurule said the law is clear that digital proof is acceptable and his department will continue with its informal policy of acceptance.

If Connecticut’s governor signs a bill passed by the state Legislature permitting electronic proof of insurance, New Mexico will be the only remaining state in the nation without such a state law. Washington, D.C., also lacks such a law.

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