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Judge dismisses suit challenging 30-day impound law

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  • Judge dismisses suit challenging 30-day impound law

    A federal judge this week dismissed a lawsuit challenging a state law that allows cities to impound cars for up to 30 days when people are caught driving without a license.

    U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero said in his ruling Monday that taking a vehicle temporarily is within the spirit of the law and is necessary to protect the health and safety of "Californians from the harm of unlicensed drivers."

    "The concern for the public interest here requires prompt action," Otero wrote.

    Immigrant rights activists have criticized strict enforcement of the law because they say it unfairly targets illegal immigrants, who are ineligible for driver's licenses and are forced to drive illegally to work, to visit doctors, and on other necessary trips.

    Supporters of the law say it reduces the number of traffic accidents by cracking down on unlicensed drivers.

    Civil rights attorneys filed the lawsuit in March 2007 on behalf of about 20 plaintiffs, including two people whose cars were impounded by Escondido police, and named Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Riverside and Los Angeles counties and the cities of Riverside, Escondido, Maywood and Los Angeles as defendants.

    The plaintiffs argued that the state's mandatory 30-day impound law was unconstitutional because it constituted an unreasonable seizure. The court disagreed.

    Michael McGuinness, Escondido's assistant city attorney, said the city was pleased with the judge's decision.

    "We agree with the court's decision that the plaintiffs did not have a case, and the court correctly found that California law allows impounding of cars," McGuinness said Friday.

    Cynthia Anderson-Barker, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said the judge issued a narrow ruling by saying that the cities were following the state law, but he avoided addressing whether the law was constitutional. She said the plaintiffs would appeal the decision.

    "Why did he do this?" Anderson-Barker asked. "I hate to speculate. Maybe he wanted the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals) to rule on it rather than him."

    Critics of the impound law said they were disappointed with the ruling.

    "Just because it's legal doesn't make it right," said Bill Flores, a spokesman of El Grupo, a North County-based umbrella organization of civil rights groups.

    Flores said he and his group may seek help from legislators to change the law.

    Escondido was singled out in the lawsuit because it is one of the cities that is most strictly enforcing the law, attorneys for the plaintiffs said.

    In the last three years, the Escondido Police Department has seized nearly 10,000 vehicles from unlicensed drivers, more than double the number of vehicles impounded by Oceanside, according to city records.

    During that same period, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department impounded more than 6,400 vehicles. The department is responsible for patrolling all unincorporated areas of the county and 10 contract cities, including Vista, San Marcos, Poway, Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach in North County.

    Escondido police Chief Jim Maher has said the strict enforcement against unlicensed drivers is helping to reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents ---- from 660 in 2005 to 554 in 2007 ---- which he says are caused primarily by unlicensed drivers.

    Escondido ranked second among 50 cities of similar size in the number of hit and runs for the year 2006, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety. It ranked third in 2005. Figures for 2007 are not available.

    The law that was challenged in the lawsuit, California Vehicle Code section 14602.6, says that if a police officer determines a person is driving without a license, or the license was revoked or suspended, the person's vehicle "shall be impounded for 30 days."

    Lawmakers passed the law, known as the Safe Streets Act of 1994, in response to research that showed that:

    -- Of all drivers involved in fatal accidents, more than 20 percent involve unlicensed drivers.

    -- A driver with a suspended license is four times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than a licensed driver.

    -- Seizing the vehicles used by unlicensed drivers serves a significant public interest.

    In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs cited a 2005 ruling by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals involving an Oregon law. The court found that towing a vehicle merely because a driver is unlicensed is an unreasonable seizure absent a showing that the vehicle posed a threat to public safety.

    However, in his ruling, Judge Otero agreed with the defendants that the Oregon case did not apply because "Oregon classifies driving without a license as a traffic violation and not as a traffic crime." Driving without a license is a misdemeanor crime in California.

    Critics of the law said that it caused unreasonable financial hardship for violators.

    To get their vehicles back, the owners typically must pay as much as $1,200 in towing and storage fees. Those fees have generated nearly $10 million for the city and the towing companies during the last three years, according to city records.

    Escondido Councilman Sam Abed said the judge's ruling vindicates the city's policy of strict enforcement.

    "It's good news for the city because we are doing the right thing," Abed said. "I don't think it's just a moneymaking business. My goal is not financial. It's taking unsafe drivers off our streets."

    Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-3511 or [email protected].

  • #2
    I have read in the past that the 30-day impound applies only to people who have never had a license, so as to better target illegal immigrants. Is that correct?

    Comment


    • #3
      NO--Just what it sys

      The law says UNLICENSED.

      IF there is a licensed driver in the car--It does not get impounded.

      IF the person HAS a license that can be verified by a radio check-It does not get impounded.

      IF the person is unlicensed, and had NO license. it gets impounded until:
      1. The registered owner shows up at a CHP Office and gets a "Release"
      2. Two LICENSED drivers appear at the Impound lot with the "Release" to pay towing and impound fees, and recover the car.

      For the Calif Highway Patrol, 30 day impound is discretionary, and requires supervisor approval.

      It's usual application is those who are suspended or revoked



      Originally posted by velobard View Post
      I have read in the past that the 30-day impound applies only to people who have never had a license, so as to better target illegal immigrants. Is that correct?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by velobard View Post
        I have read in the past that the 30-day impound applies only to people who have never had a license . . . . Is that correct?
        Not exactly, but the law does not apply to people whose licenses are merely expired.

        Vehicle Code § 22651(p) authorizes towing if the driver is unlicensed, which includes when the license is simply expired. However, § 14602.6(a) authorizes a 30-day impound only if the driver never was issued a driver’s license, or if the license is suspended or revoked. So, if the driver has a license that is merely expired, the vehicle cannot be impounded for 30 days. It must be released to the registered owner or his agent upon proof of proper licensing.

        I think the law recognizes that people who have been issued a license but failed to renew it in time generally know how to drive.

        Vehicle Code § 22651

        A peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with
        Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 of the Penal Code, or a regularly
        employed and salaried employee, who is engaged in directing traffic
        or enforcing parking laws and regulations, of a city, county, or
        jurisdiction of a state agency in which a vehicle is located, may
        remove a vehicle located within the territorial limits in which the
        officer or employee may act, under the following circumstances:

        (p) When the peace officer issues the driver of a vehicle a notice
        to appear for a violation of Section 12500, 14601, 14601.1, 14601.2,
        14601.3, 14601.4, 14601.5, or 14604 and the vehicle is not impounded
        pursuant to Section 22655.5. A vehicle so removed from the highway
        or public land, or from private property after having been on a
        highway or public land, shall not be released to the registered owner
        or his or her agent, except upon presentation of the registered
        owner's or his or her agent's currently valid driver's license to
        operate the vehicle and proof of current vehicle registration, or
        upon order of a court.

        Vehicle Code 14602.6

        14602.6. (a) (1) Whenever a peace officer determines that a person
        was driving a vehicle while his or her driving privilege was
        suspended or revoked, driving a vehicle while his or her driving
        privilege is restricted pursuant to Section 13352 or 23575 and the
        vehicle is not equipped with a functioning, certified interlock
        device, or driving a vehicle without ever having been issued a driver'
        s license, the peace officer may either immediately arrest that
        person and cause the removal and seizure of that vehicle or, if the
        vehicle is involved in a traffic collision, cause the removal and
        seizure of the vehicle without the necessity of arresting the person
        in accordance with Chapter 10 (commencing with Section 22650) of
        Division 11. A vehicle so impounded shall be impounded for 30 days.
        Last edited by DAL; 09-13-2008, 05:55 PM.
        Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
        Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

        Comment


        • #5
          Immigrant rights activists have criticized strict enforcement of the law because they say it unfairly targets illegal immigrants, who are ineligible for driver's licenses and are forced to drive illegally to work, to visit doctors, and on other necessary trips.
          Those darn laws that target illegal acts...

          Comment


          • #6
            They issue DL's in Mexico and other foreign countries, so the undocumented drivers should simply go home and get their documents in their native land.

            Before leaving the US, they should stop at the nearest Border Patrol station and get themselves registered as being undocumented in the US. That'll make things a bit easier for when they return.

            Comment


            • #7
              This is a great law, and it would be a shame to have it taken off the books due to a bleeding heart 9th Circuit. They have done some very strange things in that courtroom, so overturning 14602.6 would not surprise me in the least.

              Comment


              • #8
                Wow, whatever happened to public transportation, or taking a taxi???
                "When I close my eyes.....I'll see you on the other side....!!!"

                Hate to put it this way skippy, buy every night I suit up and climb in the cruiser I'm at war. I'm always outnumbered, potentially out gunned and always behind enemy lines.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Was there a case that was brought up exempting those who lent out their cars to someone whom they thought had a valid license but did not? Thats got to have happened more than a few times. What happens to the car in that case?

                  I had friend who used to borrow my car every now and then; he swore he had a license. When I found out that not only was he lying about that, that he had warrants as well, I was ****ed!!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Here in AZ, state law requires a 30 day impound for the following reasons;

                    1. The driver is in an accident, AND is in violation of Arizona’s insurance law,
                    AND has a suspended, revoked, or canceled driver’s license for any reason, or is unlicensed in any State.

                    2. The driver has never been issued a driver’s license or permit in Arizona and is not licensed in any other jurisdiction.

                    3. The driver’s operating privilege is suspended or revoked for any reason.

                    4. The driver is arrested for either Extreme DUI or Aggravated DUI.

                    5. The driver is under the legal drinking age of 21 and has any alcohol in their body.

                    No one has fought it yet


                    P.S.--> Even if you are licensed and the vehicle is registered to you and you are in the vehicle as a passenger, but the driver meets the above criteria, the vehicle still gets impounded. You can get the vehicle back early as soon as you sign paperwork promising not to let the driver drive for one year.
                    Last edited by tzbv2p; 09-13-2008, 07:40 PM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by bigislander72 View Post
                      Was there a case that was brought up exempting those who lent out their cars to someone whom they thought had a valid license but did not? Thats got to have happened more than a few times. What happens to the car in that case?

                      I had friend who used to borrow my car every now and then; he swore he had a license. When I found out that not only was he lying about that, that he had warrants as well, I was ****ed!!
                      The owner of a vehicle that was impounded for 14602.6(a) CVC (30 day hold) may request a "Stipman Hearing" to offer evidence showing they had no knowledge of the driver's unlicensed or suspended/revoked status and may request an early release from impound. However, it is up to the owner of the vehicle to make a reasonable effort to insure that anyone using the vehicle is licensed.

                      For example, your friend shows you his license. You let him borrow your car. Turns out his license was suspended for some reason or other. An appeal during such a hearing on these grounds may very well earn your vehicle an early parole....

                      In general though, most folks know darn well what they are doing and decide to just roll the dice anyway. What amazes me is that people are out there driving, knowing they are unlicensed and that their car may be seized, yet they drive like idiots anyway! Remember, usually the only reason we find out about such a driver is because they commit a moving violation or are involved in a collision.
                      Last edited by andy5746; 09-13-2008, 10:02 PM.
                      LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DRINK CHEAP BEER!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Only in America can someone try to change a law because it harms people illegally here.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by andy5746 View Post
                          The owner of a vehicle that was impounded for 14602.6(a) CVC (30 day hold) may request a "Stipman Hearing" to offer evidence showing they had no knowledge of the driver's unlicensed or suspended/revoked status and may request an early release from impound. However, it is up to the owner of the vehicle to make a reasonable effort to insure that anyone using the vehicle is licensed.

                          For example, your friend shows you his license. You let him borrow your car. Turns out his license was suspended for some reason or other. An appeal during such a hearing on these grounds may very well earn your vehicle an early parole....

                          In general though, most folks know darn well what they are doing and decide to just roll the dice anyway. What amazes me is that people are out there driving, knowing they are unlicensed and that their car may be seized, yet they drive like idiots anyway! Remember, usually the only reason we find out about such a driver is because they commit a moving violation or are involved in a collision.
                          In that case I would have probably been out of luck. I usually take peoples word as golden, one of my fatal flaws!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by madchiken View Post
                            Those darn laws that target illegal acts...
                            Actually, there is something to this argument.

                            If there's no means by which someone can comply with the law it seems unfair to punish them for non-compliance.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Loren Pechtel View Post
                              Actually, there is something to this argument.

                              If there's no means by which someone can comply with the law it seems unfair to punish them for non-compliance.
                              Gimme a break. They can comply with the law, by going back the country where they belong. They broke the law when they entered this country illegally.

                              Comment

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