In a carefully orchestrated escalation against laws prohibiting driving without a license, a group of prominent civil rights attorneys filed a lawsuit in Superior Court today seeking to strike down as unconstitutional impounding cars for 30 days under most circumstances. (impound-lawsuit)
The move follows by 12 months, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s decision to give drivers without licenses a free pass at DUI checkpoints if they aren’t drunk, a move that led to state legislation achieving the same goal.
Despite ample evidence of the threat to public safety, Beck, with Police Commission approval, now has issued a Special Order barring LAPD officers from seizing vehicles of drivers who never had a valid California license — if they can produce some form of identification, car registration and insurance.
The goal is to end long-standing policies of impounding the cars of illegal immigrants for 30 days as a deterrent to them driving without licenses, credible ID and valid insurance.
Beck’s action have generated considerable support in many circles — and sharp critiicism in others — even as he acknowledges the right solution is to allow illegal immigrants to take driving tests and get licenses.
What the lawsuit attacks is the constitutionality of impounding cars of anyone who has ever had a driver license anywhere at any time, even in other states or foreign countries. It also questions impounding cars of registered owners who allow unlicensed drivers to use their cars — a common practice intended to escape the consequences of driving an unregistered car.
A judge in Sonoma County recently rejected the argument that once having a license in a foreign country applies to residents of California whether or not they are legally in the U.S.
“A resident of California cannot legally drive while holding just a foreign license,” he wrote. “Whether or not a resident driver had an active or expired foreign license is irrelevant in this context.”