Law Review: Never lend your car to your brother-in-law | SierraSun.com

Law Review: Never lend your car to your brother-in-law

Jim Porter
Law Review

If you are driving without a valid driver's license can the police, in this case the Los Angeles Police Department, impound your vehicle?

That question is too easy for you smart readers, even for you average readers. How's this: If you can prove you have a valid driver's license, can you get your impounded car back? That's our case of the day, case du jour.

Never lend your car to your brother-in-law

Lamya Brewster loaned her car to Yonnie Percy, her brother-in-law. Brewster later learned she should have asked Percy if he had a valid driver's license. He didn't. Percy was stopped by LAPD officers, who quickly determined his driver's license was suspended. The officers seized the vehicle under California Vehicle Code §14602.6(a)(1).

Brewster filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all vehicle owners whose vehicles were subjected to the 30-day impoundment, claiming the impound is a “warrantless seizure that violates the Fourth Amendment.” The federal trial court ruled for the LAPD. Brewster appealed.

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Vehicle Code §14602.6

Vehicle Code §14602.6(a)(1) authorizes impounding a vehicle when the driver has a suspended license. Vehicles seized must be held in impound for 30 days, which is to deter unlicensed drivers or drivers with suspended licenses from driving. No problem with that.

Give Me My Car Back

Three days after the impoundment, Brewster documented she was the registered owner of the vehicle and had a valid California driver's license. She offered to pay all towing and storage fees, but the LAPD refused to release the vehicle before the mandatory 30-day holding period had lapsed. That was the legal issue.

Brewster filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all vehicle owners whose vehicles were subjected to the 30-day impoundment, claiming the impound is a "warrantless seizure that violates the Fourth Amendment." The federal trial court ruled for the LAPD. Brewster appealed.

Fourth Amendment Seizure

The federal Court of Appeals, with an opinion written by the brilliant Judge Alex Kozinski, ruled that because a 30-day impound is a "meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in [his] property," the Fourth Amendment is implicated.

The impoundment/seizure is justified under the Fourth Amendment only to the extent that the government's justification holds force. But after Brewster proved she had a valid driver's license, there was no justification to hold her vehicle.

Once Brewster proved she had a valid driver's license, she was entitled to her car. Mandatory 30-day hold unconstitutional. Makes sense to me.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno, Nevada. His practice areas include: development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or http://www.portersimon.com.