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NM House OKs bill to stop forcing police to erase evidence

February 20, 2020 GMT
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John Rivera, a special projects supervisor of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, speaks about cold cases of missing people on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, at the New Mexico Statehouse in Santa Fe, N.M. State lawmakers are racing through the final days of a 30-day Legislative session, which ends Thursday. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
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John Rivera, a special projects supervisor of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, speaks about cold cases of missing people on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, at the New Mexico Statehouse in Santa Fe, N.M. State lawmakers are racing through the final days of a 30-day Legislative session, which ends Thursday. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A measure that would stop police from having to destroy seized electronic evidence obtained through a search warrant but not the target of an investigation has unanimously passed the New Mexico House.

The proposal approved early Thursday seeks to fix a bill passed in 2019 that required law enforcement to wipe out some digital evidence. The requirement may have affected some pending cases in Albuquerque, where crime has soared in recent years.

The bill now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it. The law would take affect immediately.

Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque said the change is needed because law enforcement has no choice under current law but to eradicate certain digital evidence after 30 days.

“The problem is that law enforcement oftentimes has multiple investigations against the same person,” Ivey-Soto said.

The new bill allows police to seal the seized electronic evidence and get a court order to use it in another unrelated investigation.

The measure gained steam in the final days of the New Mexico legislative session after district attorneys and representatives from the city of Albuquerque and the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to fix the 2019 law that has sparked confusion among police and prosecutors. That measure was passed through the “rocket docket,” a bundle of bills that were fast-tracked to the governor’s desk.

Crime remains a hot topic in the Legislature as Albuquerque, the state’s most populous city, has experienced a spike in violent and property crimes in recent years. FBI statistics show Albuquerque had a violent crime rate of 1,365 per 100,000 residents in 2018. The national rate was about 369 violent crimes per 100,000 residents that year.

Last year, Uruguay issued a warning to its citizens about traveling to Albuquerque.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras