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Colorado: Voters Reject Mandatory Vehicle Confiscation

November 10, 2009

Colorado: Voters Reject Mandatory Vehicle Confiscation
Seventy percent of voters in Denver, Colorado reject mandatory impounding of cars driven by motorists unable to produce a license. 

Impound lotVoters in Denver, Colorado last Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have forced police to impound cars whenever a driver failed to produce a driver’s license. The measure was designed to expand a 2008 impound ordinance in a way that would have increased pressure on illegal immigrants.

“They are responsible for about half of the fatal accidents and, of course, they are uninsured,” initiative sponsor Daniel Hayes argued. “Illegal aliens, like all unlicensed drivers, will be towed just as a domestic driver under suspension or revocation.”

The text of the initiative called for the immediate impounding of a vehicle — with no room for officer discretion — if its driver “may be reasonably suspected” of being an illegal alien. The punishment, however, would have also applied to any driver who had forgotten his wallet at home. Driving without “convincing corroborating identification” would have required impounding, stranding a properly licensed owner on the side of the road. The initiative would have boosted the penalty on forgetful owners to $200 plus a $120 towing fee, a $30 processing fee and $20 per day storage.

Others would have been forced to post a $2500 bond within thirty days for the release of the vehicle. Denver officials, including the mayor, police chief and city council, strongly opposed the initiative based on the experience with the 2008 initiative authorizing impounding with officer discretion.

Denver Police estimated the number of tows would have doubled from 15,732 in 2009 to 33,892 in 2010, requiring five more police officers to handle the work load. Overall, the department estimated increased enforcement costs of $1.6 million, not counting the revenue from the impounds. For a total of two months this year, the city’s impound lot reached the maximum capacity of 2200 cars and officers would only tow vehicles in cases where the vehicle was used as evidence of a crime.

“Under the proposal, drivers who simply forgot their identification will continue to be inconvenienced and police time tied up impounding vehicles for minor infractions and waiting for tow trucks instead of focusing on drivers who pose real public safety risks such as habitual traffic offenders or those driving under the influence,” the city council stated in a proclamation. “I-300 actually makes it tougher for innocent lien holders to recoup their business costs for a vehicle that is impounded through no fault of their own.”

On election day, 70 percent of voters rejected the initiative.

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