Impounds Reined In

New Law Limits What Cars Can Be Towed at DUI Checkpoints

Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will prohibit law enforcement agents from impounding cars stopped at DUI checkpoints if the drivers are not intoxicated. Currently, the vast majority of cars are impounded because the driver lacked a valid driver’s license, not due to intoxication. State Senator Gil Cedillo (D-L.A.), who authored the bill, argued the change was necessary because law enforcement agencies target Latino neighborhoods when locating checkpoints. In the past, Cedillo has introduced bills to allow driving privileges to immigrants in the country illegally. While this was supported by the California Police Chiefs Association, then presided over by Santa Barbara Chief Cam Sanchez, it failed.

Latino activists throughout the state have complained that the impounding of vehicles places an undue burden on financially vulnerable immigrant communities, and the current law seeks to soften the enforcement impact. The law calls on police to release the impounded vehicle to legally licensed relatives — or friends — of unlicensed drivers. And the law makes explicit that cars, once impounded, can be released to the owner within 24 hours. Current law allows impounded vehicles to be kept up to 30 days. The towing and impound fees frequently exceed the price of the vehicle; impounded cars are often abandoned.

Santa Barbara City Attorney Steve Wiley said the department was already moving in the direction dictated by the new law. But last year, when community activists sought Chief Sanchez’s support for a 30-minute amnesty period — as other cities have done — to allow unlicensed drivers to get a legally licensed friend or relative to take possession of their car, he and other law enforcement executives declined.

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