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Vehicle Impound ordinance – unconstitutional?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Vehicle Impound ordinance – unconstitutional?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
June 22, 2012


Has Woodstock overstepped the boundaries on fairness and integrity with its new Vehicle Impoundment ordinance? This law, enacted quietly, without fanfare, without announcement, without discussion and unanimously on January 17, allows police to seize vehicles under certain circumstances.

Woodstock calls it “impoundment”. A nearby community calls their similar ordinance a “seizure” law.

By now, you're familiar with my rantings about Woodstock's ordinance and its $500.00 “ransom” to get your vehicle back.

These laws aren't new in this country. What is new is how municipalities are using them to raise money – to increase City revenues.

An article three years ago by an attorney questioned whether city towing practices are unconstitutional. For example, in Oregon cities started to worry about exposure to civil liabilities when their cops ordered tows. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in (November 2005) and declared in Miranda v City of Cornelius that impoundment in that case was seizure without a warrant within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. That impoundment did not fit within the “community caretaking doctrine.”

That doctrine basically says that, generally, if the vehicle isn't obstructing traffic and won't be at unnecessary risk of harm, it can be left right where it is, when the driver is taken into custody. And, if someone licensed is available to drive it, it can be driven away.

If that doctrine were applied in Woodstock or around McHenry County, the revenues would surely drop. No more ka-ching, ka-ching from $500 dropping into the till at the P.D.

Did Woodstock's City Fathers (with all due respect to the two women on the City Council) think at all about the number of people who would lose their cars entirely under this ordinance? If they thought about it, it certainly wasn't to the point that they bothered to discuss it out in the open. Was there another document from Woodstock's Police Chief Robert Lowen in which he estimated how many of the impounded vehicles would not be redeemed, because the owners were broke and couldn't afford tow fees, storage, $500 impound fee (or fine or bond) to retrieve the cars?

This is a rotten ordinance that needs 1) to be repealed and 2) to have all the tickets rescinded and fines (and bonds) returned. In fact, the city should also reimburse the owners for towing and storage.

Anybody agree?

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