• Warrantless Seizure of Vehicles
  • May 15, 2012 | Author: G. Ross Trindle
  • Law Firm: Best Best & Krieger LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Overview: The state Attorney General recently released an opinion validating the discretion of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to establish guidelines governing the warrantless seizure of vehicles of drivers who are not authorized to operate a vehicle. The LAPD impound policy gives peace officers authority to impose either a “30-day hold” or impound the vehicle without a fixed time period, depending on the circumstances of each case.

    Police Chief Training Point: This opinion clarifies the discretion of police to impound vehicles for “community caretaking purposes” when the driver is driving on a suspended or revoked license or without a driver’s license. The opinion also attempts to harmonize a potential conflict between two sections of the Vehicle Code. Should a department wish to follow a policy similar to that adopted by the LAPD, authority for that policy decision now exists. In that case, first evaluate whether the circumstances surrounding the violation mandate a 30-day impound period. The stricter 30-day hold may be appropriate in more serious cases, such as when the driver has prior convictions for being an unlicensed driver, has insufficient identification or is at fault in a major traffic collision. In less serious cases, the vehicle may be impounded and released to the registered owner in less than 30 days.

    Summary Analysis: In Opinion No. 12-301, the Attorney General evaluated two Vehicle Code Sections that allow LAPD officers to impound vehicles in cases of unauthorized driving. One section provides a stricter 30-day hold on vehicles; the other does not. If both sections apply, the LAPD may establish guidelines allowing officers to impound vehicles under either provision. It is important to note that an Attorney General opinion is not binding like a court opinion. However, an AG opinion can be persuasive when defending policy decisions.