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California: Car Seizure Question May be Put to Voters
The California Insurance Commissioner offers ballot proposition to seize automobiles belonging to uninsured owners.

Steve Poizner
California voters may be asked to approve a ballot proposition authorizing the seizure of automobiles that happen to be driven by uninsured drivers. State Insurance Commissioner Stephen L. Poizner (R) filed his proposal with Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) last month.

"The purpose of this act is to reduce the number of uninsured motorists by imposing tough, but fair, punishment on vehicle owners who fail to comply with California's financial responsibility law," the proposition states.

Car seizure has become a significant source of income for many cities under current law. Los Angeles grabs cars from individuals with expired licenses or other paperwork violations, earning the city $14,157,344 in revenue last year. The legislature recently re-enacted the so-called sideshow law that allows an individual police officer to seize any vehicle merely by accusing it of "spinning donuts" or making any other "exhibition of speed." Oakland and other cities took the concept one step further and made merely watching a sideshow a crime generating fines of up to $1000 per spectator (view Oakland ordinance, view Riverside ordinance).

Unlike current practice, Poizner's proposition provides some procedural protection to make it less likely that innocent motorists will have their car seized over paperwork or database errors. If a police officer stops a motorist who is not carrying proof of insurance, the officer has the discretion to seize the front and rear license plates only if a computer database also shows the vehicle registration has been suspended, canceled or revoked. The vehicle owner would be charged a fee for a temporary tag that allows the car to be driven for seven days. The proposition authorizes vehicle seizure only if the owner fails within this period to establish he is properly insured and "the public health and safety requires immediate removal of the vehicle." The latter provision prevents seizure of vehicles properly parked on a public street or private driveway, in accordance with a 2005 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

Poizner hopes to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) as governor in 2010. A full copy of his ballot measure is available in a 1.8mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Initiative Statutory Amendment (Stephen L. Poizner, 11/15/2007)

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