Forfeiture in NYC

Mike Steindel (
Sat, 20 Feb 1999 19:09:02 -0800 (PST)

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Mayor Rudy has approved of the forfeiture of cars for driving under the
influence in New York City. As of Monday you can lose your car if your
caught. You can just bet that they will catch you. If you live in your
car you'll be out on the street. In which case you'll soon be swept out
of the city by police. This is the guy who wants to run for U.S. Senator
against Hilary's the story by way of: Bob Owen at

NYC to Seize Cars of Drunk Drivers 
February 21, 1999 
New York City to Seize Cars of Drivers Arrested for Drunk Driving By

NEW YORK -- In what city officials described as the toughest municipal
policy against drunken driving in the nation, the New York City Police
Department will begin seizing cars from people arrested on charges of
drunken driving, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced Saturday. 

The plan, which is to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday, will allow a
police officer to seize a suspect's car where it is stopped, regardless
of the driver's circumstances. 

"This will be a very, very useful way to reduce even more the number of
traffic fatalities in the city," Giuliani said at a news conference at
police headquarters in lower Manhattan. "If you've had even one drink,
you should find somebody else to drive your automobile or you should
stay where you are, or use public transportation. We have to find every
possible way to get that message across to people." 

City officials first floated the seizure plan about a month ago. Since
then, Giuliani said, he had Michael Hess, the city's corporation
counsel, study the legal ramifications to make sure that the plan would
survive what the mayor said were almost inevitable court challenges from
civil liberties groups. 

"We tried to spend some time preparing this in a way that we will have a
very strong argument, and one that will prevail, that this is legal,
constitutional and a fair balance of the rights of individuals as
against the right to protect society against drunk driving," Giuliani

Legal experts said the initiative raised constitutional issues but could
act as a deterrent. 

"If you can put the driver in jail for being drunk while driving, it
seems to me there's no greater deprivation in taking the instrumentality
of that crime from him," said Richard Uviller, a professor of criminal
law at Columbia University Law School. "It's a Draconian measure,
there's no question about it. But if people know they could lose their
cars if they drink too much, they may not drive them, and that could be
very effective." 

Laws in 22 states authorize municipal officials to confiscate the cars
of drunken drivers, but virtually all those laws involve repeat
offenders, officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration have said. 

State law allows the seizure of vehicles owned by drivers who repeatedly
drive while intoxicated, but that law has rarely been enforced. In
taking the initiative, New York City is expanding a city forfeiture law
that municipalities use to cut down on drug trafficking and

The leaders of civil liberties groups bristled Saturday at Giuliani's
plan and and promised to seek constitutional challenges to it in court. 

Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union,
said the law gave too much authority to the police to determine
punishment. "It's not up to the police commissioner to impose the
penalty," he said. 

The new seizure law will create "a lot of chaos in the city," predicted
Ira Glasser, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"People driving cars around New York are not going to be too happy about
this. I think it's really a reflection of Giuliani's instinct for

Last year, the New York City police made 6,368 arrests for driving while
intoxicated, in which a driver's blood alcohol level is 0.10 percent or
higher. In New York, drivers can also be stopped for driving while
impaired, in which the threshold for blood alcohol is 0.06 percent to
0.09 percent. 

But the new seizure policy will only affect driving while intoxicated,
said Police Commissioner Howard Safir. 

The mayor's plan was enthusiastically endorsed by a representative of
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a national organization that has long
advocated harsher penalties for drunken drivers. 

"Drunk driving is a violent crime, and the weapon of choice is a
vehicle. Does MADD have any sympathy for the drunk drivers who may lose
their expensive cars? Absolutely not," said Maureen Fisher-Riccardella,
president of the New York state chapter of the organization, who stood
beside Giuliani during the news conference. "Do we want to hear about
the possible hardships to them and their families? No." 

Some experts said they wondered whether taking away a family car might
inadvertently punish the innocent. 

"Suppose that's the only car in the family, and it's relied upon by the
family," said Robert Blecker, a professor of criminal law at New York
Law School. "You have innocent parties suffering whether or not the
person is found innocent or guilty. You want the response to be
proportionate to the level of the crime." 

"One of the problems with forfeiture is that you can effectuate a
criminal punishment under a civil label," Blecker said. "You can obviate
a necessity for many due process guarantees, like proof beyond a
reasonable doubt. 

"If the goal is deterrence, then we can ask, 'Does the intoxicated
person before he enters his car retain the ability to clearly discern
the potential punishment?"' he continued. If the answer is no, then the
whole law is undermined, he said. 

"On the other hand, if you know you're going to drink and you get
stopped that might stop you from driving," he said.  Several experts
also wondered about the propriety of seizing a leased car or one that
was bought with a bank loan. "If you allow this procedure and don't
establish an innocent-owner defense, so that the leasing company is held
strictly liable, the net effect will be that the insurance rates will
rise. The long-term effect will be higher rates for leasing for
everybody," Blecker said. 

"The rates for everybody will go up," he said, "so that, long term,
people who don't drive drunk will be subsidizing those who do." 

Despite vows to challenge the policy from the New York Civil Liberties
Union and other groups, Hess said there was legal precedent for such
forfeiture programs and that the city was confident it would pass
constitutional muster. 

"This is a new application of a legal process that has been tested and
approved constitutionally over several decades," Hess said.

Hey as if that isn't bad enough learn more about New York and it's
Police Methods Here: NEW YORK'S MEANEST  An unarmed civilian dies in a
hail of police bullets. An immigrant is sodomized in a precinct house.
New Yorkers report being jailed just for giving cops the hairy eyeball.
In the Big Apple, it's getting hard to tell the good guys from the bad.
Civil Liberties Guide J.D. Tuccille tells why.

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