LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KFOX14) — New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Civil Rights Act into law on Wednesday and will take effect July 1.
This new law gives a person the right to sue the state, a city, or county when their rights under the state’s constitution have been violated.
KFOX14 sat down with Amy Orlando, an attorney for The Justice Legal Team in Las Cruces to explain how the bill works.
“Let’s say I get stopped by a police officer, and I don’t think I should have been stopped, I think it’s wrong, that it’s a violation of my constitutional rights, wrong search and seizure, so now I can sue. I don’t have to sue that officer, I get to sue the deep pocket of the state police, of Las Cruces Police, of Albuquerque Police,” Orlando said.
Orlando represents Christopher Smelser, the former Las Cruces Police Officer accused of killing Antonio Valenzuela after putting him in a vascular neck restraint. She used his case as an example.
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She said this bill would have changed the way his case played out.
“It appears to me in reading it, that the family would have to sue the Las Cruces Police Department, not Christopher Smelser,” Orlando said.
The new legislation allows people to sue their local governments up to $2 million if their civil rights are violated.
Valenzuela’s family settled with the City of Las Cruces for $6.5 million.
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House Bill 4 also removes qualified immunity from government officials, which means that they can be sued in court for violating your rights.
“We don’t see a lot of lawsuits involving officers infringing on people's rights, I think that New Mexico takes it very seriously,” Orlando said.
New Mexico is now the second state in the country to ban qualified immunity following Colorado.
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