Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Municipalities Must Establish Authority to Impound Vehicles

The appellate court in Hayenga v. City of Rockford ruled that the impoundment of a vehicle was not authorized. The primary takeaway is that a municipality must clearly establish the basis for which it is authorized to impound a vehicle on the record during an administrative hearing and may not simply rely on the Vehicle Code section that allows a municipality to assess an impound fee.

In Hayenga, a vehicle was impounded after the driver was arrested for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia discovered during a routine traffic stop. At hearing, the City and its administrative hearing officer stated that the municipal code, which invoked 625 ILCS 5/11-208.7 of the Vehicle Code, authorized the impounding of a vehicle because the driver was arrested for a Criminal Code misdemeanor.

The trial court reversed and the appellate court affirmed the reversal stating that the cited section, 5/11-208.7, only provided the basis for a municipality to assess an impound fee, but it did not authorize a municipality to actually impound a vehicle. The court determined that the City, a non-home rule municipality, could only impound a vehicle if it had explicit authority to do so. The court then determined that, because the record of the administrative hearing did not state a proper basis for the City to impound the vehicle, only an improper basis, the impoundment was not properly authorized.

The City made several other inferential arguments on appeal, including that the impoundment was valid because municipalities are authorized to impound vehicles under other sections of the Vehicle Code and Criminal Code, but the court refused to consider those arguments because they were not raised prior to the appeal.

The Vehicle Code 625 ILCS 5-11/1302 provides authority for municipalities to “remove or cause to be removed” vehicles for several reasons, including under subsection (c)(2) when the “person or persons in charge of such vehicle are unable to provide for its custody or removal.” Illinois courts have recognized that provision to allow municipalities to impound vehicles driven by persons arrested for driving under the influence.

Another subsection, (c)(3), allows for impoundment when “the person driving or in control of such vehicle is arrested for an alleged offense for which the officer is required by law to take the person arrested before a proper magistrate without unnecessary delay.” An interesting argument was raised but not addressed by the court: whether the officer’s discretion to allow a person charged with a misdemeanor to appear in court, instead of being immediately held for arraignment, negates the ability to impound the person’s vehicle. Doing so would arguably be a “delay” in appearing before a judge. The Criminal Code 725 ILCS 5/109-1 provides that a person arrested “shall be taken without unnecessary delay before the nearest and most accessible judge,” indicating that the intention of the impoundment statute was to apply to any felony or misdemeanor charge. However, that issue was not decided in Hayenga.

Both municipal prosecutors and administrative hearing officers need to be unmistakably specific when adjudicating vehicle impoundments to establish on what authority the vehicle was impounded, commonly through 625 ILCS 5-11/1302. If an impound fee is assessed, then the additional authority to assess the impound fee should also be clearly established as part of the administrative hearing’s record. Another consideration is making sure that the municipal code properly delineates that the authority to impound is not based in the impoundment fee statute, 625 ILCS 5/11-208.7.


Brad Stewart

Author: Brad Stewart