Courts Tell Cops to Step Away From the Vehicles


The California Supreme Court has invalidated ordinances across the state that allow local police to seize the cars of johns and drug buyers. (When he was mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani championed a similar policy for people suspected, but not necessarily convicted, of drunk driving.) Don't get too excited: The ruling, which grew out of a challenge to Stockton's "nuisance vehicle" policy, was based not on due process or property rights concerns but on the court's conclusion that such local ordinances conflict with state law, imposing punishments beyond those authorized by the state legislature. In Stockton, for example, someone trying to buy less than an ounce of pot, possession of which is "a low-grade misdemeanor warranting only a $100 fine and no jail time" under state law, could lose a car worth tens of thousands of dollars. Furthermore, the forfeiture could be completed based on a "preponderance of the evidence" standard, as opposed to the proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" required to impose the much lighter punishment prescribed by the state legislature.

In other vehicle-related legal news, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that looking through the car of a man who has already been arrested and handcuffed does not count as a "search incident to an arrest."