State Appeals Court Overturns Ban on LAPD’s Vehicle Impound Policy

Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2014

A state appeals court panel Friday overturned a ban on the Los Angeles Police Department’s controversial vehicle impound policy that restricts when officers can seize the cars of unlicensed drivers.

The three-judge panel from California’s second appellate district found unanimously in favor of the LAPD and Chief Charlie Beck. In 2012, when he implemented the impound policy, Beck thrust the department squarely into the contentious debate over the rights of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Under the terms of the policy, called Special Order 7 by the department, if police stop an unlicensed driver who meets several requirements–including having auto insurance, valid identification and no previous convictions for unlicensed driving–officers cannot invoke the part of the state vehicle code that authorizes them to confiscate the vehicle for 30 days, a punishment that comes with costly fines and charges.

In a city with roughly 400,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally and forbidden by state law to obtain driver’s licenses, Beck argued the monthlong impounds unfairly burdened such drivers, who often have few practical options other than to risk having their cars seized in order to drive to work or take their children to school.

The Police Protective League, the union that represents the LAPD’s rank-and-file officers, and a Los Angeles resident sued over the policy, arguing Beck was illegally attempting to supersede state laws governing vehicle impounds.

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As the case wound its way through the courts, legislators last year passed a law that beginning on Jan. 1 will give immigrants in the country illegally the right to be issued driver’s licenses. That law, and how it might affect Special Order 7, was not addressed in Friday’s ruling.

Bibring said the judges’ decision was still important because there could be problems with the law’s rollout and, inevitably, some people will not apply for driver’s licenses.

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