Delivery alert

There may be an issue with the delivery of your newspaper. This alert will expire at NaN. Click here for more info.

Recover password

DWI vehicle seizure ordinance challenged

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The fight over a Rio Rancho DWI vehicle seizure ordinance isn’t over.

Enchanted Hills resident Todd Hathorne has filed with the city clerk’s office a notice of intent to submit a petition to require a special election for voters to decide whether to remove the new ordinance. An opponent of the ordinance from the beginning, he declined to comment on the petition effort this week.

Hathorne has until April 13 to collect at least 5,747 signatures of Rio Rancho voters, city spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia said.

She said city staff members have found no deadline for a special election, should Hathorne get enough signatures. The special election question could appear on the ballot at next year’s municipal general election.

“I think it is unfortunate that the governing body wants to take your vehicle without a conviction,” said City Councilor Mark Scott, an opponent of the ordinance.

The ordinance would allow the city to seize vehicles if a driver was drunk and charged with a third or subsequent DWI within the past 10 years. Second-time offenders could have their cars temporarily immobilized instead of seized.

The ordinance includes provisions to protect vehicle owners who didn’t know their car was being used by a drunken driver.

The city attorney would have to win a city administrative hearing and a district court hearing before the city received the vehicle title. Conviction of DWI in criminal court wouldn’t be necessary.

Any money from the sale of seized vehicles would go back into the seizure program or to DWI education, prevention and enforcement.

“As representatives, we do what we think is best for the community and if there are those out there who think it needs to be questioned, more power to them,” said City Councilor Shelby Smith, a proponent of the vehicle seizure ordinance. “That’s the beauty of our country.”

With New Mexico being the second most dangerous state with regard to DWIs and the state Legislature unable to come up with a solution, Smith said, he’d like the ordinance to stay. However, he said if voters decide otherwise, “so be it.”

Rio Rancho Police have supported the ordinance.

“Our position is pretty simple: The police department would be opposed to any activity that could potentially harm public safety,” said police Lt. Paul Rogers II.

Supporters of the ordinance said it would decrease drunken driving and save lives. Detractors said it would violate constitutional rights, be ineffective and expensive, and lead to lawsuits against the city.

At the Feb. 11 governing body meeting, Hathorne acknowledged that DWI is a serious problem.

However, he said the ordinance would move the city to a position of nuisance abatement, which he believed was antithetical to civil rights. He advocated a program to immobilize cars instead.

Under the DWI vehicle seizure ordinance, vehicles driven by drunken drivers are declared nuisances.

Hathorne also said the vehicle seizure program would have to be subsidized, which he didn’t support.

According to the Rio Rancho city charter, qualified voters can require the governing body to reconsider almost any ordinance, said Assistant City Manager Peter Wells in an email to governing body members.

To do so, the city clerk must receive a petition signed by at least 10 percent of the number of voters registered during the most recent city election. The petition must be filed no more than 60 days after approval of the ordinance.

The governing body gave final approval to the DWI vehicle seizure ordinance on a 4-1 vote Feb. 11 and Hathorne received verification of his petition form from the city clerk March 16, Wells wrote.

If the signatures are collected and verified, the city would have to suspend the ordinance, which isn’t scheduled to take effect until July.

Then, the governing body could repeal the ordinance or call for a special election. Smith said he would support the election rather than repeal, if the situation arose.

Hathorne is a businessman and longtime Rio Rancho resident.