Starting Monday, Cedar Rapids police will begin seizing vehicles involved in the commission of some crimes and the policy is sparking concern from civil libertarians.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department announced in a news release issued this morning that it will begin enforcing a city ordinance that calls for cops to “seize and impound” vehicles caught up in certain crimes. A new, $500 fine must be paid — as well as the fee for the tow truck and the storage lot charge — before the vehicle will be returned to its owner.
The ordinance calls for seizing the vehicle even if the vehicle’s owner isn’t the one charged with the crime. That raises a red flag for Randall Wilson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
“What is inherently unfair about the ordinance is punishing one person for another person’s conduct,” Wilson says. “It’s just been a basic tenant of due process that people are responsible for their own actions and not the actions of other people because, biologically, our minds control our bodies and what we do but not what other people do.”
A spokesman for the Cedar Rapids Police Department says the City of Chicago instituted a similar policy in the 1990s and a U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit upheld the Chicago ordinance in 1999. Its common practice for cops to seize vehicles when someone is charged with drunk driving and they’re not sober enough to continue driving. But the new Cedar Rapids ordinance calls for seizing a vehicle — whether the driver is the owner or not — if the driver is caught in the vehicle with drugs and, in certain cases, with weapons.
“It’ll remain to be seen just how the courts view this,” Wilson says. “This is a little bit more serious than saying we’re going to hold the owner responsible for parking violations if somebody parks their car illegally.”
The Cedar Rapids City Council approved this new ordinance about a month ago. It’s similar to the Chicago City Ordinance, which the federal appeals court ruled helps “deter owners from allowing their vehicles to be used” in crimes.
Under the Cedar Rapids ordinance, those caught driving with a license that’s been suspended, revoked or barred will see the vehicle they’re driving towed away, even if the vehicle isn’t theirs. While police will waive the $500 fine for those caught — for a first time — driving a vehicle that doesn’t have proper insurance if the owner gets insurance by the time they claim the vehicle at the impound lot, Wilson says he has a general concern about the new fine because Cedar Rapids Police estimate the new fine could apply to about 2500 crimes each year.
“It sounds to me like a bit of a money-making scheme as well,” Wilson says.
According to the Cedar Rapids Police news release, the ordinance “was created to hold vehicle owners accountable for how their vehicles are used.” The police in Cedar Rapids say there are just two “legal defenses” that could be used to avoid paying the $500 fine — if the vehicle was stolen at the time the crime occured or if the vehicle in question was a taxi, bus or other “common carrier” and the driver didn’t know the paying passenger was involved in illegal activity.
A spokesperson for Cedar Rapids Police says an appeals process is being set up and an administrative law judge will hear complaints from those assessed the new, $500 fine. The department’s news release states that vehicle “owners need to be responsible for what is happening in their vehicles when they are driving as well as when they loan there vehicles to others.”
Read the entire news release from the Cedar Rapids Police Department below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 30, 2009, 9:00 am
Civil Seizure and Impound of Motor Vehicles
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA – September 30, 2009 – Beginning Monday October 5th, 2009 the Cedar Rapids Police Department will be begin enforcing Section 61.137A of the municipal code, “Civil Seizure and Impound of Motor Vehicles”. This ordinance calls for the police department to seize and impound motor vehicles used in certain criminal offenses. The registered owners of vehicles used during these criminal offense will be responsible for paying a $500.00 civil fee (in addition to normal costs associated with towing the vehicle) before the vehicle is released.
The civil fee applies to vehicles used in the following criminal offenses: Operating While Intoxicated, Driving with a Suspended, Revoked or Barred License, Hit and Run, Attempting to Elude, Possession of a Controlled Substance, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia; several weapons offenses including Carrying Weapons, Possession of A Firearm as a Felon, Possession of an Offensive Weapon, Reckless Use of a Firearm and Intimidation with a Dangerous Weapon. The Cedar Rapids Police Department will also begin towing vehicles for Failure to Post Security against Liability (No Insurance). The $500.00 fee for No Insurance only violations will be waived for first offense, if the owner acquires insurance prior to claiming the vehicle.
This ordinance (61.137A) was created to hold vehicle owners accountable for how their vehicles are used. Owners need to be responsible for what is happening in their vehicles when they are driving as well as when they loan there vehicles to others. The owner need not be present when the violations occur to be liable for the $500.00 civil penalty. There are only two legal defenses to the violation: the vehicle was stolen at the time the violation occurred or the vehicle was a common carrier (taxi, bus, etc.) and the driver was not aware of the illegal activity.
The driving violations cited in this ordinance alone account for over 25% of the nearly 10,000 in- custody arrests the Cedar Rapids Police Department makes each year. Many times these vehicles being operated illegally are not owned by the violator. The civil fee will provide a deterrent for those that operate or let others operate their motor vehicles in violation of these laws.
Impounded vehicles will only be released Mon-Fri 7am-5pm. The registered owner or lien holder must come to the Cedar Rapids Police Department, 505 1st Street SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404 to obtain the release form. Once the owner has paid the $500.00 civil fee and secured the release form, they may then go to the City’s contracted towing company (Pro Tow) and claim the vehicle once all applicable towing fees are paid.