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9/4/2007
California Legislature Revives Car Seizure Law
The California state Assembly revives the sideshow law that allows police officers to impound any car merely accused of spinning a tire.

SideshowThe California Assembly voted 74-0 last Friday to revive the state's so-called sideshow car seizure ordinance that had lapsed in January. The law authorizes a police officer to seize any vehicle he wishes by asserting that it was involved in "reckless driving" on a street or in a parking lot. The bill's author, state Senator Don Perata (D-East Bay) described sideshows as "exhibitions of speed" and "spinning donuts" that usually draw a large crowd of enthusiastic onlookers. The state will keep the vehicle belonging to any accused owner for thirty days, collecting significant towing, impoundment, storage and administrative fees imposed in addition to a fine of up to $1000. The punishment of seizure is imposed without any finding of guilt by a jury or even a judge.

Originally enacted in 2002, the sideshow law expired in January because the city of Oakland failed to keep statistics on the program's effect. It took a few months for the city to generate numbers that would provide legislators with a reason to re-approve the law. Despite the attention given to the issue, Oakland only seized 25 cars under the law, but it was quick to take the concept one step further and create an ordinance that made merely watching a sideshow a crime carrying punishment of 90 days in jail and fines of $1000 (view ordinance), with other cities following.

California Attorneys for Criminal Justice opposes the bill on the grounds that it creates a new, subjective offense that imposes the same punishment handed out for street racing on a an essentially harmless act.

"(The bill allows motorists to be) cited for exhibition of speed for merely screeching their tires while accelerating," a CACJ analysis explained. "This conduct is not inherently dangerous to drivers or pedestrians, but would be treated the same as if the person was engaged in an actual motor vehicle speed contest with another vehicle."

The state Senate is expected to pass the Assembly's amended version of the bill after which, if approved by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), the measure would become law immediately under "emergency" legislative procedures.

Article Excerpt:
California State Legislature
SB 67


AMENDED IN ASSEMBLY JUNE 28, 2007

INTRODUCED BY Senator Perata; Coauthor: Senator Steinberg

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. Section 23109.2 of the Vehicle Code is repealed.
SEC. 2. This act shall be known and may be cited as the U'Kendra K. Johnson Memorial Act.
SEC. 3. Section 23109.2 is added to the Vehicle Code, to read:

23109.2. (a) (1) Whenever a peace officer determines that a person was engaged in any of the activities set forth in paragraph (2), the peace officer may immediately arrest and take into custody that person and may cause the removal and seizure of the motor vehicle used in that offense in accordance with Chapter 10 (commencing with Section 22650). A motor vehicle so seized may be impounded for not more than 30 days.

(2) (A) A motor vehicle speed contest, as described in subdivision (a) of Section 23109.
(B) Reckless driving on a highway, as described in subdivision (a) of Section 23103.
(C) Reckless driving in an offstreet parking facility, as described in subdivision (b) of Section 23103.
(D) Exhibition of speed on a highway, as described in subdivision (c) of Section 23109.
(b) The registered and legal owner of a vehicle that is removed and seized under subdivision (a) or their agents shall be provided the opportunity for a storage hearing to determine the validity of the storage in accordance with Section 22852.
(c) (1) Notwithstanding Chapter 10 (commencing with Section 22650) or any other provision of law, an impounding agency shall release a motor vehicle to the registered owner or his or her agent prior to the conclusion of the impoundment period described in subdivision (a) under any of the following circumstances:
(A) If the vehicle is a stolen vehicle.
(B) If the person alleged to have been engaged in the motor vehicle speed contest, as described in subdivision (a), was not authorized by the registered owner of the motor vehicle to operate the motor vehicle at the time of the commission of the offense.
(C) If the registered owner of the vehicle was neither the driver nor a passenger of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation pursuant to subdivision (a), or was unaware that the driver was using the vehicle to engage in any of the activities described in subdivision (a).
(D) If the legal owner or registered owner of the vehicle is a rental car agency.
(E) If, prior to the conclusion of the impoundment period, a citation or notice is dismissed under Section 40500, criminal charges are not filed by the district attorney because of a lack of evidence, or the charges are otherwise dismissed by the court.
(2) A vehicle shall be released pursuant to this subdivision only if the registered owner or his or her agent presents a currently valid driver's license to operate the vehicle and proof of current vehicle registration, or if ordered by a court.
(3) If, pursuant to subparagraph (E) of paragraph (1) a motor vehicle is released prior to the conclusion of the impoundment period, neither the person charged with a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 23109 nor the registered owner of the motor vehicle is responsible for towing and storage charges nor shall the motor vehicle be sold to satisfy those charges.
(d) A vehicle seized and removed under subdivision (a) shall be released to the legal owner of the vehicle, or the legal owner's agent, on or before the 30th day of impoundment if all of the following conditions are met:
(1) The legal owner is a motor vehicle dealer, bank, credit union, acceptance corporation, or other licensed financial institution legally operating in this state, or is another person, not the registered owner, holding a security interest in the vehicle.
(2) The legal owner or the legal owner's agent pays all towing and storage fees related to the impoundment of the vehicle. No lien sale processing fees shall be charged to a legal owner who redeems the vehicle on or before the 15th day of impoundment.
(3) The legal owner or the legal owner's agent presents foreclosure documents or an affidavit of repossession for the
vehicle.
(e) (1) The registered owner or his or her agent is responsible for all towing and storage charges related to the impoundment, and any administrative charges authorized under Section 22850.5.
(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), if the person convicted of engaging in the activities set forth in paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) was not authorized by the registered owner of the motor vehicle to operate the motor vehicle at the time of the commission of the offense, the court shall order the convicted person to reimburse the registered owner for any towing and storage charges related to the impoundment, and any administrative charges authorized under Section 22850.5 incurred by the registered owner to obtain possession of the vehicle, unless the court finds that the person convicted does not have the ability to pay all or part of those charges.
(3) If the vehicle is a rental vehicle, the rental car agency may require the person to whom the vehicle was rented to pay all towing and storage charges related to the impoundment and any administrative charges authorized under Section 22850.5 that were incurred by the rental car agency in connection with obtaining possession of the vehicle.
(4) The owner is not liable for any towing and storage charges related to the impoundment if acquittal or dismissal occurs.
(5) The vehicle may not be sold prior to the defendant's conviction.
(6) The impounding agency is responsible for the actual costs incurred by the towing agency as a result of the impoundment should the registered owner be absolved of liability for those charges pursuant to paragraph (3) of subdivision (c). Notwithstanding this provision, nothing shall prohibit impounding agencies from making prior payment arrangements to satisfy this requirement.
(f) Any period when a vehicle is subjected to storage under this section shall be included as part of the period of impoundment ordered by the court under subdivision (h) of Section 23109.
SEC. 4. This act is an urgency statute necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety within the meaning of Article IV of the Constitution and shall go into immediate effect. The facts constituting the necessity are:
In order to protect the public from the consequences of reckless driving on a highway or in an offstreet parking facility and
exhibitions of speed on a highway at the earliest possible time, it is necessary that this act take effect immediately.



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