The policy of the police department on impounding vehicles, according to the judge, is “very opaque.”
A small claims court fight concerning who should pay the high impound fee was won by a Prince Edward Island man who had his car confiscated by police when he was arrested on drug charges.
Despite his subsequent criminal conviction and incarceration, the judges said no to the man.
Kenneth Joseph King was awarded $6,200 in compensation by Justice James Gormley for his orange 2012 Chevy Sonic, which was confiscated by municipal police during a cocaine investigation in April of 2018.
King’s automobile was impounded at Shaw’s Towing in Charlottetown for almost six months after his arrest, until September 21 of that year.
The judge calculated the entire amount from April 4 to September 21 at $4,200, based on a daily impound fee of $25. According to Justice Gormley’s written judgement, this “nearly equals to the value of the automobile.”
The judge concluded that the police had no compelling justification to retain the car seized for so long.
‘Within a day or two,’ the car was searched.
Police said during the two-day trial in small-claims court in May of this year that they were done with King’s automobile “within a day or two” after seizing it. They extensively inspected it and found no evidence that was pertinent to their narcotics case. After then, the automobile was hauled to the impound yard.
During the small claims trial, police testified that they considered forfeiting the car as “proceeds of crime,” but the Crown prosecutor in the narcotics case rejected that option.
“The first search and detention were justified, but the vehicle should have been restored to Mr King,” Gormley stated in his conclusion. After three days, a decision should have been reached.”
The judge also found that Charlottetown police lacked a clear policy on car impoundment.
At the small claims trial, now-retired police chief Paul Smith testified that holding an accused person liable for impound fees was “common practise.”
Gormley stated that the former police chief’s testimony “indicated that the officers were not relying on any legislative, regulatory, or even written policy.”
“I’m left with a policy decision based on their regular practice, which is, to be honest, very opaque in nature,” he said.
“Without any legislative, regulatory, or even a transparent policy to ground their decision-making process, police were making a decision that may have substantial financial ramifications for the individual owner.”
The judge concluded in this case that “all impound fees are the obligation of the city police.”