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Court Ruling on L.A. Vehicle Impounds a Win for Unlicensed Immigrant Drivers

Los Angeles, CA

In a legal victory for hundreds of thousands of unlicensed immigrant drivers in Los Angeles, a state court ruled that the Los Angeles Police Department’s “Special Order 7” policy, which prevents law enforcement from impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers for 30 days, is legal and can be implemented.

Under the Special Order 7 directive, authorities cannot impound a vehicle driven by an unlicensed driver for 30 days, as long as the driver can produce valid vehicle registration, auto insurance, and a form of identification.

According to the Associated Press, the LAPD and police chief Charlie Beck had long been proponents of Special Order 7. Beck implemented the law in 2012, arguing that the law discriminated against those who could not lawfully obtain driver’s licenses.

In a statement praising the ruling, the LAPD said it was “pleased by the court’s decision reaffirming the department’s authority to provide direction to its officers regarding this important matter. Maintaining the public’s trust is improved when the communities we serve believe the actions of our officers are fair, consistent, and constitutional in each neighborhood of the city.”

The Police Protective League union, which represents nearly 10,000 rank-and-file police officers, and Los Angeles resident Howard Sturgeon had sued over the measure, accusing Chief Beck of trying to get around the state vehicle code, which mandates the impounding of vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers. The court ultimately ruled that neither the union nor Sturgeon had the legal standing to sue.

Union attorney Richard Levine told the Los Angeles Times that union officials would review the ruling in the next few weeks and decide whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

According to the Times, the ruling could present particular problems with regard to drivers who fail a state driver’s test to receive a license, but continue to drive anyway. Under Special Order 7, the unlicensed driver would not have his vehicle impounded for 30 days, despite having failed to qualify for a legal driver’s license.

A new state law taking effect January 1 that will give immigrants in the country illegally the ability to obtain driver’s licenses was reportedly not addressed by the judges’ ruling.

Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, praised the ruling in a statement.

“What Special Order 7 does is simply direct officers on how to apply the vehicle impound laws without creating unfair hardship on poor immigrant residents who were too often disproportionately affected by harsh 30-day impounds, or creating the perception of profiling of Latinos in an effort to impound vehicles,” Villagra said.




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