YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Impounding of vehicles upheld

City attorney's office says in most cases the LAPD can seize cars from unlicensed drivers.

September 07, 2007|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

A week after the LAPD announced a moratorium on impounding cars of unlicensed drivers because of legal questions, the Los Angeles city attorney's office has determined that the practice is legal in most cases.

The Los Angeles Police Department last month told officers to no longer impound vehicles on traffic stops in which the only offense was driving without a license. Drivers will continue to be cited for that offense. Vehicles will be impounded only when they cannot be driven away by a licensed driver or parked legally and secured.

Officials said they would continue the moratorium until it was determined whether a 2005 appeals court ruling outlawed such impoundments.

Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, said the office believes "the impound provisions are lawful" and is "vigorously defending this litigation."

LAPD officials have not yet said whether they will lift the moratorium.

The recent LAPD decision touches on what has long been a hot-button issue because many unlicensed drivers whose cars are towed are illegal immigrants who cannot get driver's licenses.

Immigrant-rights groups and some legislators for years have sought legislation granting illegal immigrants some form of driver's licenses, but the bills have been repeatedly rejected, most recently by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Former Gov. Gray Davis signed such a bill during the recall campaign against him, but the Legislature repealed the law at Schwarzenegger's urging soon after he ousted Davis.

LAPD officials said they decided to stop impounding until the city attorney's office provides a final legal assessment of a 2005 decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals involving an Oregon impound case.

Velasquez said that although the city attorney's office generally believes that the city impound policy on unlicensed drivers' vehicles is legal, there may be exceptions, which he refused to outline.

"The city attorney's office believes it is constitutional for the city to impound the vehicle of an unlicensed driver, with a few narrow exceptions," he said. "Having said that, because of attorney-client privilege, we are not able to discuss the counsel this office has provided to the department with regard to specific vehicle impound situations."

The LAPD impounds about 47,000 cars a year belonging to drivers who are unlicensed or have revoked or suspended licenses. Officials don't gather information on how many of them are illegal immigrants.

In Miranda vs. the City of Cornelius, Ore., the 9th Circuit found that impounding a legally parked vehicle was unreasonable seizure of private property under the 4th and 14th amendments when there was no reasonable public safety justification.

The case involved Jorge Miranda, who was teaching his unlicensed wife, Irene, to drive his car. An officer saw the woman driving and made a traffic stop in the couple's driveway. The officer cited the husband for allowing an unlicensed driver to operate his car and cited the wife for driving without a license. Police impounded the car for 30 days.

Other law enforcement agencies have reviewed the case and concluded that they can continue impounding cars.

Los Angeles Times Articles