When the LAPD impounds a vehicle for 30 days pursuant to Department policy, and refuses to release the vehicle to the registered owner until 30 days are up, does this policy violate the Constitution?
Yes, says the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in last week’s case of Brewster v. Beck.
Lamya Brewster loaned her car to a relative, who was later pulled over and discovered to be driving with an expired license. The LAPD impounded the car as required by California’s Vehicle Code.
LAPD policy had an additional requirement that the car remain in the impound lot for 30 days. Lamya visited the lot, presented proof that she owned the car, but the LAPD wouldn’t release it until 30 days were up.
Lamya sued, arguing that the 30 day impound of her car was an unlawful “seizure” of her property, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Court agreed.
“A seizure is justified under the Fourth Amendment only to the extent that the government’s justification holds force. Thereafter, the government must cease the seizure, or secure a new justification. Appellees (LAPD) have provided no justification here.” (Id. at 7.)
In this case, the LAPD had no further legitimate purpose to hold Lamya Brewster’s car after she presented her proof of ownership. The LAPD, therefore, violated her property rights by improperly seizing her property.
Interesting case–let’s see if the LAPD makes needed changes to its arbitrary impound rules.
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