Brewster v. Beck

A California Vehicle code section requiring police to impound a car for 30 days when it is driven by an unlicensed driver is an unconstitutional seizure violating the Fourth Amendment since there is no justification for retaining the car after a licensed owner claims it.  This decision holds that California Vehicle Code 14602.6(a)(1) is unconstitutional at least as applied in this case.  The statute requires a police force to impound a car for 30 days if it is driven by a person who lacks a driver’s license or whose license is suspended.  While the initial seizure of the car could be justified as necessary to protect the public from danger, holding the car for 30 days became an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment when the police continued to hold the car after its owner had appeared and proven that she owned the car and held a valid driver’s license.  An initially valid seizure can later violate the Fourth Amendment if the government retains the property after the justification for its initial seizure disappears.  This decision refuses to follow the contrary authority of Lee v. City of Chicago (7th Cir. 2003) 330 F.3d 456, which held that so long as the initial seizure is satisfied, continued detention cannot violate the Fourth Amendment.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Kozinski, J.); June 21, 2017; 2017 WL 2662202


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