The Constitutionality of Impounding Vehicles of Unlicensed Drivers

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

There has been a recent flurry of public debate and litigation revolving around California Vehicle Code Section 14602.6, which authorizes law enforcemnt officials to impound a vehicle and hold it for 30 days when driven by someone without a valid driver's license. Some Civil rights groups claim it is unconstitutional in its impact on undocumented immigrants. Police and city officials defend the statutes on the grounds of the "community caretaking doctrine," and on the grounds that failure to tow and impound may lead to liability on the part of the governmental entity conducting the traffic stop. Some California governmental entities have questioned whether the statutory scheme is constitutional, and some have chosen not to enforce it. On Feb. 8, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2008 ruling by California's Central District court that the statutory scheme is constitutional, supporting "the California Legislature's determination that such a temporary forfeiture is warranted to protect Californians from the harm caused by unlicensed drivers." Salazar v. City of Maywood, et al. (Case No. 08-56604) on appeal from Salazar v. Schwarzenegger (Case No. CV07-01854).

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