Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Win: Vehicle Impoundment Violated the 4th Amendment

"After surveying Supreme Court and Tenth Circuit precedent as well as persuasive authority
from other circuits, we hold that when a vehicle is not impeding traffic or impairing public safety, impoundments are constitutional only if guided by both standardized criteria and a legitimate community-caretaking rationale. We conclude that the impoundment at issue in this case is unconstitutional for two reasons: it was not guided by standardized criteria, and was not justified by a legitimate community caretaking rationale. Under our holding, either failure alone would be sufficient to establish unconstitutionality." US v. Sanders, decided August 7, 2015.

Sanders won the suppression motion before the district court. The Government pursued an interlocutory appeal. Sanders won again.

Some factors the Court considered:

-- the car was parked in a parking lot;

-- Sanders had someone who could pick up the car;

-- police did not ask her to sign a waiver of liability form that would protect them if the car was damaged left where it was;

-- the department had a list of 21 reasons to impound a car, but neither a high crime neighborhood nor the likely target of property crimes were not reasons.

The case law review is helpful, as is the analysis. And the result. (Well done, AFPD Howard Pincus).

In litigating this issue, make sure to get the department policy/ rules/ guidance/ whatever-they-want-to-call-it that supposedly standardizes these situation. If they can't produce any, all the better, because then there is no standardized criteria. Also, ask for the impound documents, tow records, towing company inventory, and whether, as here, there is a waiver of liability form. Always, always, repeatedly ask for video. It is usually there.

And Brady -- that is, information exculpatory to the issue at hand -- should apply to suppression proceedings, although the issue is head-bangingly undecided in the Tenth Circuit. See US v. Lee Vang Lor, 706 F.3d 1252 (10th Cir. 2013).

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