Up until about 10 years ago, there was no such thing as an impoundment fee for driving while suspended or DUI in the City of Chicago or the surrounding suburbs. The officer would merely park the vehicle or drive it to the police station, where it could be claimed at a later time.
Then in 2001, Chicago began to impound the vehicles used in DUIs. Since that time, the impoundment fee has been approximately $1,200 for the initial impoundment, and another $40 per day until 15 days after notice, when, if not claimed, the vehicle can be sold or destroyed. Even after the vehicle has been sold or scrapped, the City can send the outstanding balance to collections. A few years ago, the City added vehicles used in driving while suspended cases to the list of impoundment eligble offenses.
If you wish, you can contest the impoundment fee at an Administrative Hearing, where you have the burden of showing that the arresting officers lacked probable cause to believe that you were committing the offense charged. This is decided by an attorney hired by the City to serve as an administrative hearing officer. The officers are not required to appear at this hearing, and their reports can be admitted in evidence. So in other words, so long as the officer wrote a sufficient reason to arrest you, the City keeps your money.
As you can see from the above linked Sun-Times story, the City is now trying to make up for its budget shortfall by doubling and tripling the impound fees, up to $3,000 for DUIs within 500 feet of a school or park.
I really have to wonder if the Mayor and City counsel are living in La La land. A $1,000 impoundment fee for driving on a suspended license (and please note, this is not a fine, which will come later, but only after being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt). Most of the people whose licenses are suspended are suspended because they have limited funds to pay old tickets, registration or insurance. They don’t have an extra $1,000 lying around. If they did, they would clear up their license, which isn’t going to happen now.
And I understand that no one likes DUIs, or DUI defendants, but even without an impoundment fee, a person is looking at $4,000 and up, maybe way, way up for legal fees, social service fees, alcohol evaluation, alcohol treatment, fines, fees and costs, license reinstatement fee, driving permit and breath ignition interlock device rental. (You can see this article where I was interviewed by MSN Money about the costs of a DUI). Add the $2,000 to $3,000 impoundment fee, this might be two months or more take home for an average Chicagoan, who probably has to support themselves, their children and perhaps others.
And let me remind you: the impoundment fee has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. It will stick so long as the officer’s reports make out “probable cause.” This, in a City that has had multiple “top cop” DUI officers caught faking cases in the past five years.
These impoundment fees, along with the staggering increase in DUI fines, fees and costs, are a common Illinois solution to tax revenues: use regressive taxes like fines and fees, especially when its a politically unpopular group like smokers or drunk drivers. Who cares if it is not fair, hurts families or is simply unrealistic?
What do you think?