I knew that the forfeiture ordinance would make Santa Fe Reporters 7 days column I just did not know how bad the context would be. It wasn't too bad and it was actually funny. As many of you may know I have proposed a D.W.I. Forfeiture Ordinance for Santa Fe County. I thought it might be controversial but actually there has been little negative reaction. The most asked question is what about the family who's only mode of transportation is the one family car that the offender is caught driving?
The ordinance has a provision (one we will use often) which allows that an innocent owner may sign an agreement which will allow the vehicle to only be booted for 30 days. The owner pays the cost of the boot and the vehicle will not be forfeited. The agreement states that if the same offender is caught driving the same vehicle while either on a revoked drivers license (revoked for D.W.I.) or while actually Driving while intoxicated, the vehicle will be subject to immediate seizure and will be sold. This ordinance will give family's a tool to use when their family members want to use the car and they have a history of drunk driving. They can refuse to lend or allow use of the car and tell their family members the reason is that they do not want to lose the family car. It puts more pressure on family's to not let their family member drive drunk.
Currently drivers convicted of D.W.I. have no reason to drive on a revoked drivers license. Anyone who has had their license taken away for D.W.I. can get their license back if they install an Interlock Device on their vehicle. With that provision there is no reason that someone should be driving on a revoked license for D.W.I.. Therefore we have given them the means to legally drive and not be subject to having their vehicle taken and if they choose not to follow the law then the consequences are their own fault.
The next question asked often is whether the Sheriff's Office is just trying to make money. The program could go 2-4 years before it is self sufficient. Should any excess monies be generated it could only be used for D.W. I. Prevention and Treatment. This is a way that repeat drunk drivers can help pay for the treatment programs they need. I have been trying to increase drug and alcohol treatment programs in our jail and funding is always a problem. If we could take the time offenders spend in jail and provide meaningful treatment it would be so much better than the large amount of idle time they now spend.
Finally I get asked whether or not this ordinance is legal. The ordinance we drafted mirrors an ordinance which has been challenged and upheld all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court. There have been many ordinances that have been challenged and have not passed legal muster. It is these that cause confusion about the legality of D.W.I. forfeiture as a whole. I would not endorse anything that will cause Santa Fe County undue legal bills or exposure. In fact I have been criticized for not having our proposed ordinance tough enough. However, we do not want to exceed the sanctions which have passed legal muster.
This by and far will not be a cure all for D.W. I. It is just another tool in the box to continue the fight. We do not give criminals their guns or knifes back as they walk out of jail, Lets stop handing repeat drink drivers their keys back as they leave jail. The passage of this ordinance is not a done deal. If you agree with this ordinance email or call your County Commissioners and urge that they pass the D.W.I. Forfeiture ordinance. Thank You.