ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque woman is trying to put the brakes on a city program that seizes cars of suspected drunk drivers.
That’s after she says her car was confiscated when she wasn’t even behind the wheel.
Arlene Harjo said when she handed over her car keys to her son in April, she didn’t think anything of it.
“I had no reason not to trust him,” said Harjo.
But instead of going to the gym like he said, he drove his mom’s car to Clovis. On his way back to Albuquerque, he was pulled over and arrested for a DWI.
“I couldn’t see why they would want to take my car,” said Harjo.
Harjo’s car was seized because of an ordinance allowing the city to confiscate a suspected drunk driver’s vehicle, even if the owner isn’t behind the wheel.
“Maybe if it’s that person’s property they can do that, but to take someone’s car from somebody that didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Harjo.
Harjo recently filed a lawsuit to get her car back and to fight the program.
She argues the city’s forfeiture program is excessive. The lawsuit says the City of Albuquerque seizes more than 1,000 cars a year, and brings in more than a million dollars each year.
A national non-profit called Institute for Justice is also representing her and helping make her case.
“Arlene said, ‘Look I haven’t done anything wrong, I’m not going to pay you, and I’m going to fight you,’” said Attorney for the Institute for Justice, Robert Johnson.
Here is the statement from City Attorney, Jessica Hernandez:
This is not the first time Tino Harjo has driven his mother’s car while intoxicated. In fact, this is the second time the City of Albuquerque has seized a vehicle Mr. Harjo was driving while intoxicated after Arlene Harjo allowed her son to drive her car. Ms. Harjo was fully aware of this driving history. On at least one other occasion, Ms. Harjo had to retrieve her car after it was towed when her son was arrested for driving on a revoked license
Repeat offenses like these place innocent lives at risk and are the reason for the City of Albuquerque’s DWI forfeiture program. This program is a narrowly-tailored nuisance abatement law to protect the public from dangerous, repeat DWI offenders by removing their access to the vehicles they use to commit DWI offenses. The program provides protections for innocent owners to get their vehicles back at an early stage in the process. The City’s DWI forfeiture ordinance is separate from the New Mexico Forfeiture Act and is allowed under the state law.
For Harjo, she refuses to give up.
“I don’t want any money from the city, I don’t want anything,” said Harjo. “I just want my car back.”
Harjo said she wants her car back and to fight for people who weren’t drinking and driving, but she says were treated like criminals.
“I think it’s very wrong what they’re doing,” said Harjo.