12/10/2007California Seizing Cars Over Year-Old Allegations
Because the California sideshow law expired, police are now seizing cars accused of violating the law more than one year ago.
Police in San Joaquin County, California grabbed nineteen cars on Sunday belonging to motorists in the cities Stockton, Lodi and Tracy. The cars were taken for thirty days under the recently re-enacted sideshow law not because anyone was caught street racing or driving "aggressively" at 7am on a Sunday, but because of allegations that are over a year old. (View sideshow law)
For example, police grabbed a 2000 Corvette belonging to Evelyn Chavez, 22, because Stockton police Officer Pete Smith claimed he saw her vehicle racing on Austin Road -- in 2006.
"If I was racing why didn't I get pulled over?" Chavez asked the Stockton Record newspaper.
"Quite frankly, she made a good point there," Officer Smith said in response.
Police could not act on the allegation in a timely manner because the sideshow law was not on the books between January and October of this year. The law expired after the city of Oakland failed to keep any statistics on the seizure program's effect.
The burden of proof now falls on Chavez to convince a city employee assigned as a hearing officer that she was innocent over a year ago. The hearing officer is not bound by the rules of evidence and will declare the motorist guilty if it is "likely" that the crime was committed. If declared guilty, Chavez will have to pay Stockton $1000 on January 10 or the city will auction her car and pocket the proceeds.
The seizure operation likely generated about $19,000 in revenue with the costs being covered by state and federal gasoline taxes through a California Office of Traffic Safety grant. State Insurance Commissioner Stephen L. Poizner (R) filed a ballot proposal last month that would offer at least some due process protection to motorists accused of driving with expired insurance. Unlike the sideshow law, vehicle seizure is only authorized as a last resort.