DWI forfeiture decision tabled

By Kevin Baird
CNJ staff writer

A county DWI vehicle seizure and forfeiture ordinance will not be enforced until at least September, and there is a possibility it will be repealed.

The ordinance calls for the seizure of repeat DWI offender’s vehicles upon arrest or conviction.

Curry_countyCurry County Commission Chairman Frank Blackburn motioned to repeal the DWI vehicle seizure ordinance during Tuesday’s county commission and Commissioner Ben McDaniel seconded the motion.

“I don’t like the seizure of property by the government,” Blackburn said. “I just don’t like it. I can’t see any good reason to approve it.”

Blackburn said he will try to repeal the ordinance again in September.

District Attorney Matt Chandler sent a letter to the commissioners that endorsed the law, and the letter was read to the public at the commission meeting.

“I can attest that repeat DWI offenders is a grave concern for our community,” Chandler wrote. “Please accept this as a letter of support of the DWI vehicle forfeiture ordinance. … This ordinance has been previously tested in New Mexico Courts and is deemed constitutional. It is my opinion that this ordinance will help reduce the number of habitual DWI’s in Curry County, and I encourage you to enact the ordinance.”

Chandler’s letter stipulated different conditions for vehicle seizure, stating the ordinance would only allow the seizure of convicted repeat DWI offender’s vehicles and not those who are arrested.

There were 250 DWI arrests in Curry County in 2012, according to the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division statistics.

Blackburn withdrew his motion because Commissioner Tim Ashley said it would be best if all commissioners were present to discuss the ordinance. Commissioner Bobby Sandoval was absent.

“I wanted him (Sandoval) to be able to express his opinion,” Ashley said after the meeting.

Contacted after the meeting, Sandoval said he was undecided on the ordinance.

The ordinance was passed by the commission in November, but in January, the commissioners tabled the enactment of the ordinance for 90 days, according to County Manager Lance Pyle. In April the commission approved to stay the ordinance for another 60 days. Pyle said the ordinance had been active since June 16.

“Just because papa goes and gets drunk doesn’t mean the family should be without a car,” Blackburn said. He added that seizing a DWI offender’s vehicle could put a family through hardships, through no fault of their own.

Ben McDaniel said he seconded the motion to repeal the ordinance because there are “too many issues” relating to it.

“The ordinance hasn’t been changed from its original form,” McDaniel said. “If it’s not altered to where it’s feasible, it needs to go away.”

County Sheriff Matt Murray said a public meeting for the purpose of receiving public feedback on this ordinance was held on May 28. Murray said only he, County Attorney Stephen Doerr and Assistant County Manager Connie Harrison attended the meeting.