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¡No Se Deje!
Many Municipal Police Departments routinely set up Drunk Driving Checkpoints to identify and prosecute drunk drivers. A report by the well respected Investigative Reporting Program of the University of California revealed that these “checkpoints” are much more successful at impounding the cars of sober immigrants than arresting drunk drivers. As a result, California cities received a share of more than $40 million dollars in towing fees and police fines in 2009 from unlicensed drivers. The towing fees are shared between the towing companies and the cities.
Because of the enormous amount of money cities receive from impounding fees, it is not surprising that more cars are impounded each year. In 2007, 15,700 cars were impounded in California. This number increased to 17,900 in 2008 and to more than 24,000 in 2009. The towing fees and fines paid by vehicle owners range from $1,000 to $4,000 according to the financial records of the various cities. The cities also charge the car owner an average fee of $155 and charge the towing companies a franchise fee.
Official records revealed that CITIES WITH LARGE LATINO POPULATIONS ARE IMPOUNDING CARS AT 3 TIMES THE RATE OF CITIES WITH SMALL LATINO POPULATIONS. In non-Latino communities, the police impound on average 7 cars of unlicensed drivers for every drunk driving arrest. In Latino communities the ratio is usually much worse. In Montebello, police impound 60 cars of unlicensed drivers for every drunk driver arrested. City and Police representatives insist that the locations of the checkpoints are not specifically designed to target Latino/Immigrant communities. Yet in the city of San Rafael which is only 25% Latino, 10 of 12 drunk driving checkpoints were established on streets surrounding Latino neighborhoods.
Undocumented immigrants are the tragic victims of these so called “drunk driving checkpoints”. Although they are not “drunk driving” and did not commit any moving traffic violations, their vehicles are impounded for 30 days then they must either pay outrageously high towing fees or lose their cars permanently. Ironically, drunk drivers arrested at these checkpoints can remove their cars from the tow yard the next day.
The California Safe Streets Act which authorizes impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers was intended to make streets safer by taking the cars of unlicensed drivers. Yet drunk drivers, which clearly make streets even more dangerous, do not lose their vehicles. Such results seem unfair and illogical. The law may also be unconstitutional according to some legal experts. A Federal Appeals Court has ruled that police officers cannot impound a vehicle if the only violation is unlicensed driving. A lower Federal District Court has ruled that impounding is allowed because it is punishment for driving without a license which is a crime (misdemeanor) in California. Even so, criminals must be convicted before punishment (impounding) can be legally imposed. That decision appealed to the same Federal Appeals Court that ruled impounding is not allowed. Municipal Police Departments continue to impound the vehicles of unlicensed drivers. The California Highway Patrol has stopped impounding the cars of unlicensed drivers. ¡NO SE DEJE!®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.