|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).
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 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.