07/27/2007

Calif. court rules against car seizures

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A sharply divided state Supreme Court ruled that California cities can no longer seize vehicles whose drivers are arrested for allegedly buying drugs or soliciting prostitutes.

The ruling Thursday overturns the laws of more than two dozen cities from Oakland to Los Angeles that allowed police to seize a vehicle immediately after its driver's arrest.

Even drivers suspected of buying a small amount of marijuana, a low-level crime punishable by a $100 fine, faced seizures in many of the cities with the ordinances.

The 4-3 ruling said only state law can mete out punishment for drug and prostitution offenses and without authorization from the Legislature, cities can't pass seizure ordinances that are harsher than state and federal laws.

Many urban city councils said they enacted the seizure laws as a way to combat drug sales and prostitution and clean up some of their most blighted neighborhoods.

The ruling didn't address newer city laws that allow police to seize cars allegedly participating in illegal street races and "sideshows."

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