Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, April 2, 2015


Page 1


S.C. Depublishes C.A. Ruling on LAPD Impound Policy


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California Supreme Court yesterday declined to review a Court of Appeal ruling upholding a controversial Los Angeles Police Department policy on impoundment of vehicles of unlicensed drivers, but eliminated the ruling’s effect on future cases.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, unanimously denied review in Los Angeles Police Protective League v. City of Los Angeles (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 907. But the court also ordered, on its own motion and without dissent, that the opinion be depublished.

The Court of Appeal’s Div. Eight held in the case that Police Chief Charlie Beck had the authority to issue “Special Order 7” which limits circumstances under which officers may, pursuant to state statute, impound a vehicle being driven by a person lacking a driver’s license.

Beck issued the order in 2012, based on a conclusion that a disproportionate number of vehicles being impounded for 30 days were driven by undocumented immigrants aliens who needed those vehicles to get to and from work. At the time, state law did not permit persons in the country unlawfully to obtain driver’s licenses.

The appellate ruling reversed a decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green who on Aug. 12, 2013, enjoined the city and the LAPD from enforcing Beck’s special order on the ground that it contravenes statutes. Green acted in an action brought by Harold Sturgeon, in the capacity of a Los Angeles County taxpayer, and the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

Div. Eight, issued a writ of supersedeas, staying Green’s decision, prior to overturning it

Writing for Div. Eight, Justice Madeleine Flier said:

“We conclude that Special Order 7 is within the wide discretion of the police chief, and that neither Sturgeon nor the League has standing to challenge the chief’s implementation of the state statutes.”

Flier concluded that the order does not contravene Vehicle Code §14607.6(c)(1) which provides:

“If a driver is unable to produce a valid driver’s license on the demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code,...the vehicle shall be impounded regardless of ownership, unless the peace officer is reasonably able, by other means, to verify that the driver is properly licensed.”

In addition, §14602.6 provides that where a driver is found to be unlicensed, a law enforcement officer may “immediately arrest that person and cause the removal and seizure of that vehicle.”

Under Beck’s directive, however, a vehicle may not be impounded:

“[W]here the registered owner or his/her designee has a valid California Driver’s License or is a nonresident with a valid license or otherwise exempt under the Vehicle Code…The registered owner and licensed driver are immediately available…The registered owner authorizes the licensed driver to drive the vehicle; and…The vehicle’s registration is not expired over six (6) months.”

Flier wrote:

“Here, Special Order 7 implements state law; it does not create a new law.…The doctrine of preemption does not apply to the police chief’s implementation of state law because preemption requires the comparison of two separate laws to determine if one duplicates or conflicts with the other….The order seeks to ensure uniform application of the Vehicle Code among the 10,000 sworn officers in Los Angeles.  It accurately reports that several different statutes authorize impounding vehicles. It sets forth criteria for officers to use in selecting which statute to apply.

“Setting such uniform criteria falls within the broad discretion of the police chief. City officials may set policies that are consistent with state law and constitutional standards….A chief of police may set policies for the City on police matters, and the Los Angeles chief of police is an ‘authorized policymaker on police matters.’…Officers’ discretionary decisions may be constrained by an authorized policymaker.”


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