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DWI vehicle seizure law OK’d, with amendments; will take effect in four months

The proposed DWI vehicle seizure ordinance passed the Rio Rancho Governing Body, but it won’t take effect for four months.

The ordinance allows the city to seize or temporarily immobilize vehicles of people arrested for a second or subsequent DWI offense or for driving on a license revoked or suspended because of a DWI conviction.

Councilors modified it, including a requirement that a second-time offender be offered the option of having the car booted for at least 30 days instead of going forward with the hearing process.

It passed its final reading on a 4-1 vote at the governing body meeting Wednesday, with Councilor Mark Scott absent. Councilor Chuck Wilkins cast the dissenting vote.

Paul Caputo, a retired Rio Rancho Police officer and Sandoval County deputy, asked governing body members to consider the responsibility of an officer who has to tell people their family member has been killed and watch their lives fall apart.

“I am against laws that control people but, in this case, a vehicle becomes a weapon,” Caputo said. “The bottom line is when people do not learn. The first time may be a mistake. After that, it’s a bad habit, something they can get away with.”

From the other perspective, local businessman Marc Calderwood said his grandmother was killed in 1970 by a man who’d taken the car from his elderly mother, who was unable to stop him. He also told of his son, as a teenager, making a copy of his car key, taking the car without permission and wrecking it.

Calderwood said many drunken drivers don’t use their own cars. He said any money the city made from the program would go to lawsuits and the ordinance would have no effect on people driving while intoxicated.

“This is not a good law,” he said.

Under the ordinance, innocent owners and lien-holders could receive their vehicles back. Once the owner or lien-holder made claims of innocence, the burden of proof would lie with the city to prove the person knew the driver was going to use the vehicle illegally at that time.

To permanently seize a vehicle, the city would have to prove by a preponderance of evidence in administrative and district court hearings that the police stop and arrest were legal, and the driver was intoxicated.

New amendments included:

  • Prior DWI arrests or convictions must have happened in the past 10 years to be counted for the vehicle seizure program.
  • Any funds from the sale of forfeited vehicles, after the expenses of the seizure program are paid, can go only to DWI education, prevention and enforcement.
  • The governing body and city attorney’s office must approve rules on how the program’s administrative hearings are conducted. Councilor Dawnn Robinson, who proposed the amendment, said the governing body’s extra oversight could prevent lawsuits and protect innocent owners.

Scott, in an interview Thursday, said he would not have supported the ordinance, saying the question was never answered about how many offenders the program was targeting.

“Is it one; are there a thousand?” he said. “So the city council last night voted on spending money on a program where we have no idea what we’re doing because we don’t know how many second-time offenders there are.”

Police Chief Michael Geier said the police records system didn’t allow easy access to such information, but he hoped to fix that issue.

Councilor Cheryl Everett continued to support the ordinance.

“This isn’t about all property rights,” she said, addressing an argument several people had made. “It’s about the right to use or allow one’s vehicle to be used by a drunk driver, period.”

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