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Impounding Trucks: Part 3 – Ransom Tows

You’ve seen this situation play out in the movies a million times. Bad guy needs money, so he kidnaps an innocent person, usually the good looking family member of some rich dude. Why? Because people will do anything for a loved one, including pay loads of money to get them back. That’s what a ransom is: demanding compensation to settle an unlawful action. Unfortunately this happens in truck enforcement…and it is wrong. Plain wrong.

Trucks are valuable items to those who own and operate them. When a police officer finds an overweight violation and refuses to let the vehicle go until the driver has posted cash bail, he is holding the truck for ransom. He is doing this without the authority of law.

Overweight bails are incredibly unique in that they are only traffic citation when the Illinois Supreme Court allows the entire statutory fine to be collected as a cash bail. Most traffic tickets require a cash bail of $120 or a valid driver’s license to be posted.  Even if the statutory fine is greater than $120, only $120 can be taken as bail.

For instance, an overwidth citation carries a maximum fine of $500, but the bail is $120. A citation for not having valid proof of insurance carries a mandatory $500 fine. The bail, however is $200 or a valid driver’s license. A police officer is not authorized to take the full fine as bail for these offenses. Those fines can be adjudicated in court.

If the statutory fine for an overweight is $600, then the bail is $600. If the fine is $25,000, the bail is $25,000. It’s an exceptional authority truck enforcement officers have.

The question begging to be answered is this: if the Supreme Court allows the police to collect enormous sums of money as a cash bail for overweight citations, how is a police officer to collect the money if the defendant cannot produce it? The law provides two solutions. The first solution is to give the defendant a recognizance (I-bond or Individual Bond). The second is taking the defendant immediately before a judge and let the justice decide what to do with him.

The key word here is “the defendant”. It is the person, not the vehicle. The human being is charged with the crime, not the truck, not the trailer, not the load. The person.  Only in specific situations, such as a DUI or certain drug cases are the police allowed to seize and hold a vehicle. There is no place in the Illinois Compiled Statutes, the Supreme Court Rules, the Administrative Rules or case law where police officers are authorized to hold/impound a truck as ransom to collect overweight bails. It’s a fable.

What else is a fable? Some police officers have been told I-bonds are unlawful for overweights. They claim their local prosecutor, state’s attorney or police chief have said so. Guess what? They’re wrong too.  As a matter of fact, Supreme Court Rule 553(d) specifically allows for I-bonds for violations covered by Rule 526, which is where overweights reside. If the driver chooses to violate the conditions of an I-bond, he will lose his license until the case is resolved. If a judge sets conditions for the release of the driver and he violates them, there will be a warrant. 

An even more troubling problem is police officers who argue that if something is not expressly prohibited in the law, then it is permissible. Really? Would it be okay to write people citations for driving barefoot? How about driving while wearing a blue hat? Sounds preposterous, but the law is silent to both of those topics just as it is silent to holding trucks for ransom. Seeing as how the articles the last two weeks show the law is not silent to towing, it should be perfectly clear that the limitations set by the General Assembly end the argument.

A police officer may only hold an overweight vehicle long enough to be made legal weight and driven away by a properly licensed and classified driver. If it is a non-divisible load, the truck must be released once the permits are obtained. If the owner purchases enough registration to cover the weight, it is free to go. If the load is removed to bring it back to legal weight, it can no longer be held.

This whole issue arises from instruction that claims truck enforcement is “Revenue 101”. It is also comes from truck enforcement programs with a “collection before protection” philosophy.  A truck cannot be taken hostage for the sins of the driver.

The role of the police is to catch the violator, not collect revenue. That is the job of the judiciary.  The members of the ITEA have a Standard of Practice (SOP-13) to not engage in such conduct.

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