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Petition on vehicle seizure withdrawn

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A Rio Rancho man has abandoned a petition drive seeking an election on or repeal of the city’s DWI vehicle seizure ordinance, since the governor has signed a state law restricting civil asset forfeiture.

But the city says the law doesn’t affect it.

“We are moving forward as planned,” Rio Rancho Police Lt. Paul Rogers II said.

Local political activist Todd Hathorne told KOAT-TV on Monday that he abandoned his petition drive because House Bill 560 puts the decision of asset forfeiture in the hands of a judge and upholds the standard of innocent until proven guilty.

The new law, among other things, requires civil forfeiture to follow criminal proceedings. Rio Rancho’s DWI vehicle seizure ordinance doesn’t mandate a conviction on the current offense for the city to take cars.

In February, the Rio Rancho Governing Body passed the ordinance allowing Rio Rancho Police to seize vehicles driven by people who are drunk or driving on a license suspended or revoked for DWI, and who have at least two prior DWI convictions in the last 10 years. Vehicles could be immobilized for a specified period of time instead of seized if it’s the driver’s second DWI.

To get the title to the car, the city would have to win an administrative hearing and a district court hearing by presenting evidence on the validity of the traffic stop and the offense.

In March, Hathorne filed notice of his petition drive with the city clerk’s office. If he had collected at least 5,747 signatures of registered Rio Rancho voters, the governing body would have had to repeal the seizure ordinance or put it up for a public election.

Gov. Susana Martinez signed HB 560 on April 10.

A statement from City Hall said the new law doesn’t stop Rio Rancho’s DWI seizure ordinance.

“Rio Rancho’s ordinance does not specifically apply the state Forfeiture Act and does not contain any language which triggers it,” the statement said. “Rio Rancho’s ordinance was enacted under municipal home-rule jurisdiction and employs its own due process in accordance with state and federal requirements.”

Home rule jurisdiction gives the city more autonomy from the state.