City trying to return nearly 400 cars from defunct DWI seizure program

The city’s DWI seizure program has been defunct for nearly a year, but there are still hundreds of cars in the city’s possession and they may have a tough time getting rid of some. 

KRQE News 13 has learned the city still has nearly 400 cars in its DWI seizure lot. Some of the owners of those vehicles have been difficult to reach so far, while others simply aren’t interested in taking back their old car. 

The scenario has now left the city the dilemma of what it will do with all of leftover seized vehicles. 

As it figures out the next few steps, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s administration is asking for city councilors to approve a two-year extension to the lease agreement for the DWI seizure lot. If approved, the extension will cost the city a little more than $38,000 in total. 

The Albuquerque City Attorney’s Office oversees the DWI seizure program, which was halted last April by a decision from Mayor Tim Keller. Since then, a couple federal court rulings have deemed the program unconstitutional.  

Under the old seizure program, the city of Albuquerque was seizing the cars of DWI drivers on their second arrest, not a conviction. The city made upwards of $8 million on the program over a period of more than eight years. 

Today, current city attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. says the city has no plan on restarting the program. 

“It was the right decision to make,” said Aguilar Jr., speaking of the city’s April 2018 decision to end the program. 

However, the city still has hundreds of the cars it seized in its possession. As of Friday, the city had 397 seized vehicles remaining in the DWI seizure lot off Edith Boulevard in the North Valley. 

While the city has been trying to get those vehicles back to owners, the task has been difficult. 

“It has in the sense that a lot of the owners are difficult to find,” said Aguilar Jr. 

The city says so far, it hasn’t been able to reach the owners for about half of the remaining 400 seized vehicles through phones calls or letters. 

Other car owners they’ve reached aren’t interested in taking their cars back. 

“There’s a fair number of owners who’ve abandoned or disclaimed those vehicles, and so right now we’re currently evaluating what to do with those vehicles,” said Aguilar Jr. 

Over the next year, the city hopes to figure out exactly how many cars they’ll be left with and exactly what they’ll do with the vehicles, whether that’s selling the cars, trashing them or something else. 

“We want to do that as quickly as possible,” said Aguilar Jr., speaking of trying to get the vehicles back to their owners. “But making sure we’re doing it in the right way.” 

The city says it will continue to call and send out letters to all owners of the remaining seized vehicles. If they don’t hear back in 30 days of the first letter going out, the city will begin to go through the process of marking the vehicle as abandoned.  

In order to get an abandoned property designation, the city will have to get a district court judge’s permission for each vehicle. 

Anyone who thinks they may have a seized vehicle that’s still in the city’s lot should call the City Attorney’s Office at 505-768-4500. 

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