LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Ninth Circuit ruled Wednesday that the Los Angeles Police Department violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unlawful seizures by impounding a woman’s car after she showed officers she owned the vehicle and had a valid license.
In 2014 Lamya Brewster sued the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles after police seized her Chevrolet Impala. She had loaned it to her brother-in-law Yonnie Percy, whose license had been suspended.
Three days later she showed up to claim the vehicle and offered to pay towing and storage fees. But the police refused to give it back and after 10 days in the impound they released it to lien holder, Superior Auto.
Under LAPD policy, Superior Auto was not allowed to give the car back to Brewster until the end of the 30-day impoundment period, according to court records.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled for the city, finding the policy a valid administrative penalty.
But the Ninth Circuit Court reversed, finding that though the initial seizure was lawful, the LAPD failed to justify the 30-day impoundment period.
“The exigency that justified the seizure vanished once the vehicle arrived in impound and Brewster showed up with proof of ownership and a valid driver’s license,” Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the 9-page opinion.
Kosinski found that the Fourth Amendment “doesn’t become irrelevant once an initial seizure has run its course,” and that the LAPD is justified in seizing a vehicle under the Fourth Amendment “only to the extent that the government’s justification holds force.”
“Thereafter, the government must cease the seizure or secure a new justification. Appellees have provided no justification here,” Kozinski wrote.
Circuit Judges Margaret McKeown and Paul Watford joined the opinion.