1/12/2007California Appeals Court Green Lights Car Seizures
Text of a California Appeals Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of car seizures without a trial.
In a ruling yesterday, a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal upheld the ability of municipalities to seize automobiles without a trial. The decision overturned that of a Sonoma County Superior Court judge who had found in 2004 that the seizures were unconstitutional on their face.
Patricia Samples filed suit in October 2002 challenging the law on principle. Her car was never impounded. The Sonoma County court found the law vague and in violation of the equal protection clause because drivers in rental cars are treated differently than drivers who own the vehicle. Under the seizure measures, automobiles are seized for thirty days upon the accusation -- not conviction -- that the driver had been involved in "street racing" or that his papers were not in order.
In upholding the seizure ordinances, the appeals court acknowledged that some municipalities have been seizing vehicles in an unlawful manner.
"Equally troubling is evidence suggesting that many agencies do not consider the vehicle owner's lack of actual knowledge regarding the driver's licensing status to be a mitigating circumstance..." the court wrote. "And we certainly do not condone the conduct of agencies who ignore our holding in Smith or in some other way circumvent the safeguards designed to ensure proper enforcement of section 14602.6."
Nonetheless, the court said the only recourse of those whose rights have been ignored is to file a lawsuit in court. The appeals verdict canceled the payment of $249,018 in legal fees to Samples. In December, the California Appeals Court limited the ability of cities to seize cars parked in front of homes.
The full ruling is available in a 65k PDF file at the source link below.