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Vehicle impounded if driver arrested

Published (3/18/2010)
By Mike Cook
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A 2008 Minnesota Supreme Court case could mean a change to vehicle impoundment laws.

In State v. Gauster, the court ruled that an inventory search of a vehicle was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment because police improperly impounded the vehicle of a person cited, but not arrested.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Rosenthal (DFL-Edina), HF3650 would allow a peace officer to impound a vehicle when the driver “is arrested or taken into custody and another means of safely dealing with the vehicle is not immediately available.”

If there is another capable driver in the same vehicle, that person could take the vehicle off the roadway.

It would require an officer to articulate that they are towing the vehicle for some safety-related reason, said Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association. He noted it may not be reasonable to wait an hour for someone to retrieve a car left on a freeway in an ice storm versus a vehicle left along a rural county road.

“I think it’ll be useful for law enforcement,” said Rep. Paul Kohls (R-Victoria).

Approved March 16 by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee, the bill awaits action by the House Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division. A companion, SF2707, sponsored by Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), awaits action by the full Senate.

Lance Klatt, executive director of the Minnesota Service Station Association, said that since the court decision, there has been “significant confusion” by law enforcement and tow companies as to when a vehicle can be towed.

Rep. Gail Kulick Jackson (DFL-Milaca) asked who pays the towing charge if the driver is acquitted or the charges are dropped.

“This often becomes part of the plea bargain negotiations for the dismissal,” Franklin said. “In cases I’ve been involved in, we, the law enforcement agency, have reimbursed or paid the tow for them when the charges have been dismissed. … It is usually resolved in some amicable way.”

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