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The Constitution and Impounded Vehicles in New York

New York City tows more cars than any other city in the country. Your car is never safe from the NYPD’s tow trucks within the 5 Boros if you park it on public streets. This is because of the complex legislative scheme that gives New York City the right to declare the entire city a tow away zone. This essentially means that cars and motorcycles may be towed in New York City for a wide range of traffic and parking violations. This leaves many people questioning how the NYPD has the right to tow their vehicle and fine them for something so minor. Doesn’t the Constitution forbid the government from taking your property without a warrant or without due process? The Fourth Amendment gives people the right to be secure in their possessions, which should not be seized except upon a search warrant justified by probable cause. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments give people the right to due process before they are deprived of their property. How is it then that the City of New York is permitted to seize a car without any sort of paperwork and impose a towing fee of $185.00?

If your vehicle has been towed and is accruing impound fees call our office right away. Our aggressive and knowledgeable traffic attorneys will vigorously defend your rights.

The Vehicle and Traffic Law permits New York City to designate the entirety of the city as a “tow away zone”. This allows New York City to tow any vehicle for violating the traffic laws in the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law or the parking regulations of New York City. Vehicles may be towed based on violations as inconsequential as: a vehicle parked with a registration or inspection that is one day overdue, allowing the muni meter to expire, or double parking for a few minutes to run into the store and grab some soda.

Why doesn’t the Fourth Amendment protect me from getting my car or motorcycle towed when all I did was get a parking ticket or minor traffic ticket? The Fourth Amendment in fact does permit the seizure of property without a warrant where the seizure is reasonable. A warrantless seizure may be presumptively reasonable if there is no expectation of privacy with regard to the property seized, that the property has somehow been placed in a spot where it violates the law, and that property is in public view. Case law has upheld seizures of property when the property is placed in an open location and is conspicuously in violation of the law. Judges have used that precedent it to justify New York City’s practice of seizing vehicles that are parked in violation of of New York City’s parking rules without a warrant.

Why don’t the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments protect me from having my car or motorcycle taken from me without a judge hearing my case first? The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee that all persons be granted due process of law before being deprived of their property. Due process is, by nature, a malleable concept that forms its contours along the rights that are impacted. For example, more procedure is due to someone who is facing capital punishment, than for someone who may be denied a license to enter a certain kind of business. Accordingly, courts have held that New York City’s refusal to accept bond instead of full payment for the release of an impounded vehicle, and the City’s practice of allowing for short durations of time before one can challenge the lawfulness of the impound at the Parking Violations Bureau both comply with the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments due process requirements.

If you believe your vehicle has been unlawfully seized by the NYPD call our aggressive and experienced New York traffic lawyers right away. Call us today for a free consultation.

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