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Court Clears City To Seize Cars on First-Time DWI Arrests

By Deborah Baker
Associated Press
       SANTA FE ó The state Supreme Court has cleared the way for enactment of an Albuquerque ordinance that allows the city to seize the vehicles of first-time alleged drunken drivers.
    The 2005 ordinance, which was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, has been on hold during the legal battle.
    The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the ACLU lacked the legal standing to sue because itís not an injured party.
    The ACLU contends the ordinance is unconstitutional because it allows the city to take a motoristís vehicle upon arrest, before a conviction.
    The high court said that while the ACLU raised serious issues, they should be dealt with in the context of a specific case once the ordinance is enforced.
    An owner whose vehicle is taken ďwill have the concrete injury, the motive, and ó given the ACLUís willingness to intervene ó the opportunity to mount an effective challenge to the ordinance,Ē the court said.
    The Supreme Courtís decision affirmed a ruling by the state Court of Appeals in May 2007.
    The ordinance is an expansion of an earlier city ordinance that allows the seizure of vehicles driven by repeat DWI offenders.
    The ACLU argued that the expanded ordinance punishes a driver based on an arrest, not a conviction, in violation of the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the constitution.
    It also said the ordinance potentially subjects drivers who drink, but who arenít intoxicated under the law, to the threat of forfeiture.
    The ACLU challenged the ordinance the day it became effective and a state district judge blocked its enforcement. Fridayís ruling dissolved that injunction.


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