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Mississippi: City to Seize Expensive Cars Over Unpaid Tickets
The mayor of Jackson, Mississippi will tow expensive cars over a single unpaid ticket.

Mayor Frank Melton
Owners of expensive automobiles in Jackson, Mississippi may find their cars seized if the city claims that they have let a single ticket go unpaid. Mayor Frank Melton is hoping to add millions to the city budget already deep in the red by impounding vehicles over petty violations beginning September 28. Each time a car is released, the city will collect more than $500 in fees, plus the original fine.

"We're going to start with the high-end cars first," Melton said at a press conference. "Because those are the people who are going to want their cars more than anyone else. And I'm sorry it has come to this, but we've given them an opportunity to pay their fines and the state gives us the authority to confiscate their cars."

Hinds County deputy sheriffs and Jackson police will specifically seek out brands such as Lexus, Melton said, adding between 50 and 100 to the city's collection of 600 impounded vehicles within the first phase of the program. As reported in the Clarion-Ledger newspaper, however, a 1997 opinion by the state attorney general shows that Melton's claim that he has the legal ability to seize automobiles is dubious.

"No authority exists for a municipality to impound vehicles for nonpayment of traffic fines," wrote then Attorney General Mike Moore, citing established precedent.

Melton will also attempt to jail anyone without a car who fails to pay the fines.

Article Excerpt:
Office of the Mississippi Attorney General

January 24, 1997

Chief Larry Poole, Pontotoc Police Dept.
116 North Main St.
Pontotoc, MS 38863-2108

Re: Impound Yard

Dear Chief Poole:

Attorney General Mike Moore has received your recent letter on behalf of the City of Pontotoc and has asked me to respond. By telephone conversation you stated that you are writing at the direction of the governing authorities of the City of Pontotoc.
Your letter states:

In consideration of recent changes to section 63-11-49 in regard to the seizure and impoundment of vehicles, our concern rests in the monetary aspect of lengthy impoundment of these vehicles. Under our present system we utilize a private wrecker service
to tow and store these vehicles. These vehicles range from accidents, DUI arrests, seizures and other traffic offenses. Storage fees are accrued daily at the rate of $10.00 a day. This situation has us to pose the following questions:

Is it permissible for the City of Pontotoc to establish and operate a municipal impound yard?
What fees or charges may be assessed to persons charged with criminal violations in regard to impounded vehicles?
If permissible please prescribe how the revenue created from this impound yard should be handled in regard to proper audit practices?
Under the above premise what remedy could be sought if the storage fees were not paid by the defendant(s)?
What exposure as far as liability would this pose to the City?

We are of the opinion that a municipality may establish and maintain an impound yard for vehicles which are being held as evidence or are classified as abandoned property. However, no authority exists for a municipality to impound vehicles for nonpayment of traffic fines. MS AG Op., Cooke (August 17, 1981). See also MS AG Op., Navarro (October 24, 1995)(procedures for turning over impounded vehicles). A municipality may charge reasonable fees to cover actual costs for the services of storing the vehicles. These fees should be placed in the general fund. Municipal governing authorities may collect storage fees by holding the vehicles until the fees are paid.

We do not by official opinion comment on questions of liability, which must be answered on a case by case basis by the governing authorities. See MS AG Op., Navarro (October 24, 1996)(releasing vehicles to lienholders).

If we may be of any further assistance, please let us know.

Alice D. Wise Special Assistant Attorney General
Source: Melton to drivers with overdue fines: Well tow your car (Jackson Clarion-Ledger (MS), 9/18/2007)

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