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  Richmond Vehicle Seizure and Forfeiture Ordinance Challenged
September 18, 2004

I committed last week to introduce legislation to allow the City to seize vehicles used to illegally dump trash on public streets. It would have been an amendment to Municipal Code Chapter 11.94, passed by the City Council in early 2003, providing for the seizure and forfeiture of vehicles “used to solicit an act of prostitution, or to acquire or attempt to acquire any controlled substance.” See http://bpc.iserver.net/codes/richmond/index.htm.

Unfortunately, Richmond’s seizure and forfeiture ordinance, along with similar laws in other cities, has been successfully challenged in court by an organization called Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR).

The FEAR website states: “As you will see below, we got what we were looking for in Richmond.  The Judge agreed with ALL arguments, finding the Richmond ordinance violates due process by virtue of its pecuniary incentives -- and expressly rejecting Jerrico as factually inapposite.  We also won on the probable cause hearing claim and jury trial claim. Since it is a facial challenge ruled on as a matter of law, the order should be dispositive of the case.  We may have to move for summary judgment, but I see no reason why the court would reach a different result later -- unless the Oakland and Stockton ruling comes down in the interim from the 1st and/or 3rd districts.”

”The Contra Costa Superior Court, Department 33, overruled the City of Richmond's demurrer to plaintiff's challenge to Richmond's vehicle forfeiture ordinance on pecuniary interest and prompt post-seizure hearing grounds; thereby finding that, as a matter of law, the ordinance is unconstitutional for the reasons claimed.”

Under the circumstances, I am requesting the city attorney to do research to determine if the ordinance can be revised to cure the unconstitutional aspects.

From Bay Cities News Service, January 16, 2003:

Richmond Cops Given Right To Seize Cars

RICHMOND, Calif. -- The Richmond Police Department said that the City Council has given it the green light to allow officers to seize vehicles used by people who try to buy drugs or solicit acts of prostitution.


The Richmond City Council approved the first reading of the Vehicle Seizure and Forfeiture Ordinance Tuesday night.


Richmond police say people who use vehicles to buy drugs and solicit acts of prostitution create a nuisance and cause a negative impact on the quality of life in neighborhoods where such activity occurs. Richmond police also say seizing vehicles from people who come into neighborhoods to commit such acts will create a legal deterrent.



The ordinance also provides for vehicles to be forfeited and sold upon proof that the vehicle was used for the purpose of buying drugs or soliciting prostitution. Richmond police officials say funds from the sale of those vehicles may be distributed to local law enforcement, the City Attorney or the District Attorney.

The city of Oakland has a similar ordinance that has withstood all court challenges since it was implemented in 1998.


The ordinance will be presented to the Richmond City Council for a second reading next week. Once it is adopted, the ordinance is expected to become effective in thirty days.