UPDATE: Confronted with questions raised by the State Legislative Counsel on whether its proposed policy is legal and where City Attorney Carmen Trutanich stands given his conflicted positions, the Police Commission put off a decision Tuesday on a new car impound policy for two weeks. ACLU and National Lawyers Guild attorneys argued the Legislative Counsel is wrong in asserting impounds are mandatory for unlicensed drivers in most cases.
In terms of public safety, it is madness to deny drivers licenses to illegal immigrants who drive anyway. No photo, no thumb print, no name, no record of who is behind the wheel.
It is even crazier to do what the Chief Charlie Beck wants to do to please the mayor and advocates for illegal immigrants who prefer to ignore the law on impounding cars of drivers without licenses rather than to change the law so there is a record of who is behind the wheel.
Today, the Police Commission will consider whether to approve Beck’s plan to ignore state law and effectively bar officers in most instances from impounding the cars of illegal immigrants when they are stopped for a traffic violation.
Beck doesn’t even believe it’s a policy change, only a procedural change, so neither the commission nor the City Council have a say in the matter.
It takes Beck nine pages of convoluted and clumsy prose to explain in his proposed unnumbered Special Order how officers are supposed to use their discretion in deciding whether to impound or not impound the vehicle of a driver without a valid license.
His cover letter to the Police Commission is shorter and to the point: “Officers will continue to be guided by the Community Caretaking Doctrine when deciding whether to impound a vehicle driven by an unlicensed driver or a driver with a suspended or revoked license. When an unlicensed driver’s vehicle will be impounded, officers will be directed to place a 30-day hold if the driver has prior convictions for being an unlicensed driver, is unable to show proof of insurance, has insufficient identification, or is at-fault in a major traffic collision.”
The language obscures the goal: Cars of drivers who have never had a valid license because they are illegal immigrants and barred by state law from getting licenses will no longer be impounded in most instances.
He rests his case on the legal advice of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s lawyers who have told him that a section of the vehicle code leaves it up to officers to decide what to do at a traffic stop when the driver has a suspended or revoked license or never had a license.
“The department has worked very closely with the Los Angeles city attorney’s office in the crafting of the revised protocols and believes those protocols are lawful,” says Commander Andrew Smith.
On the other hand, Trutanich’s lawyers have argued out of the other side of their mouths in a federal court lawsuit filed on behalf of illegal immigrant drivers whose cars were impounded for 30 days (Miranda Motion to Dismiss)(9th Circuit Brief). In this case, they cited a specific section of the law that requires 30 day impounds of drivers who never had a license or had their license revoked or suspended
The double-talk from the City Attorney’s office is nonsense, according to the state Legislative Counsel which issued its opinion the impound question on Saturday (Legislative Counsel Opinion – Unlicensed Drivers). Here’s the key passage:
Turning to the question posed, both subdivision (p) of Section 22651 and Section 14602.6 authorize the impoundment of a vehicle driven by a person who has never been issued a valid driver’s license. While Section 14602.6 specifies a mandatory 30-day impoundment period, subdivision (p) of Section 22651 does not. However, subdivision (p) of Section 22651 applies generally to vehicles driven by drivers in violation of Section 12500, which includes drivers whose driver’s licenses have expired, while Section 14602.6 applies only to those vehicles driven by drivers whose licenses were suspended or revoked, or by drivers who were never issued a driver’s license. It is a “long-standing principle of statutory construction [that] a special statute governs over a general” (People v. Jackson (2005) 129
Cal.App.4th 129, 170). Hence, in regard to a vehicle driven by a person who has never been issued a driver’s license, it is our opinion that Section 14602.6 would control.
Hence, in plain English, state law requires officers who stop a driver who has a license that was revoked or suspended or who never had a license to issue a citation and impound the car for 30 days.
But Beck feels he can pick and choose which laws he is going to enforce — much to the displeasure of the officers’ union, the Police Protective League which has vigorously protested his plan to stop impounding cars.
The union has seized on the Legislative Counsel’s opinion and Beck’s comments in a recent KFI interview in which he said:
“All of our procedures have been run through the city attorney’s office, their opinion is that what we are doing is absolutely legal, their opinion is that either section can apply, their opinion is that progressive penalty makes the most sense. I don’t do things in a vacuum. I have not only met with the city attorney on this, I’ve met with the district attorney on this, I’ve met with community groups, I’ve met with immigration rights groups, I’ve met with our elected officials, discussed this with members of the media. You know, there has been a lot of discussion and a lot of thought and if I had any inkling that what we were doing was illegal or, or a hazard to the public, I wouldn’t do it.”
“With the release of the California Legislative Counsel opinion that the policy is illegal, we ask the Chief to stand by his words that if he had any inkling that what he was doing was illegal or a hazard to the public, that he would not do it,” said PPL President Tyler Izen.
“The proposed policy change jeopardizes public safety and welfare, as well as the safety of our officers, exposes the City and its officers to liability and the modification directly conflicts with and undermines the official position taken by the City of Los Angeles.”
So the question for the members of the Police Commission to consider is whether the hardship faced by impounding the cars of the most unfortunate among us — people without any identity living in the shadows of our community — outweighs the danger they pose as unlicensed drivers.
It doesn’t seem to be a close call when the law seems clear to everyone but the City Attorney’s office and Chief Beck.
The right answer is to change the law — not ignore it.