Archives of the Mayor's Press Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: Wednesday, May 19, 1999
Release # 185-99
Contact: Sunny Mindel/Curt Ritter (212) 788-2958
Lorna Goodman (212) 788-0999 (Corporation Counsel)
Marilyn Mode (212) 374-4227 (NYPD)
MAYOR GIULIANI APPLAUDS NEW YORK STATE SUPREME COURT RULING DECLARING CITY'S DWI INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL
City's Efforts To Confiscate Vehicles of Drunk Drivers Upheld In State Supreme Court
Major Victory for Public Safety and City's Efforts to Rid Its Roadways of Drunk Drivers
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, joined by Police Commissioner Howard Safir and Corporation Counsel Michael Hess, today applauded the decision by Justice Michael D. Stallman of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, who ruled that the City's Automobile Forfeiture Program is Constitutionally valid. In ruling on the case Pavel Grinberg v. Howard Safir, Justice Stallman denied the New York Civil Liberties Union's (NYCLU) petition in its entirety and dismissed their case.
"Justice Stallman's ruling is a major victory for New York City and one that will resonate throughout the country, as municipalities aggressively pursue drunk drivers in an effort to make their city streets safer," said Mayor Giuliani. "In February, when we first announced this initiative, the civil libertarians were the first to come out to defend the rights of drunk drivers and their reckless behavior. Today's decision is significant because, as a result of New York City's efforts to get tough on drunk driving, a precedent has been set that will help cities and towns across the country establish the standards they need to make their streets even safer.
"When a drunk driver gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, that vehicle becomes a weapon," the Mayor continued. "Now when someone gets caught drunk behind the wheel, not only will they be removed from the road, but so will their car. It's also important for all New Yorkers to realize that if you're caught driving drunk you risk taking a life or losing your own. I want to congratulate Mike Hess and his team at Corporation Counsel on this victory, and thank Justice Stallman on his ruling, which will save thousands of lives in the future."
In an effort to combat drunk driving and reduce the number of DWI-related accidents and fatalities, the Police Department announced on February 22 that using civil forfeiture laws, it would begin confiscating the vehicles of intoxicated drivers arrested for DWI. When an individual is arrested for DWI, the City applies civil
forfeiture proceedings against the vehicle, which is considered the instrument of a crime, and the car is immediately impounded. If the individual is convicted, their vehicle becomes the property of the City, and will later be sold at public auction or used for law enforcement purposes.
"This is a significant victory for the safety of the citizens of New York City," said Corporation Counsel Michael Hess. "Under this initiative, which has now been found to be proper and Constitutional, drunk drivers and their vehicles will be taken off the roads. Over eighty percent of DWI arrests are first-time offenders and, therefore, forfeiture of their vehicles will severely cut down on this danger."
Police Commissioner Howard Safir said, "Since we instituted this program, there have been those people who have tried to downplay the seriousness of drunk driving on one hand, while on the other hand attempting to portray our enforcement efforts against this crime as some sort of assault on the rights of the individual. This decision by the State Supreme Court shows these attempts for the specious arguments they truly are. Drunk driving is a deadly serious crime. This decision has reaffirmed the Constitutionality of our forfeiture procedures, and has strengthened our resolve to continue this program."
Among the significant points of Justice Stallman's ruling are:
- The Court ruled that the provisions of Administrative Code Section 14-140 legislatively grant the power to the City to seize automobiles used by drunk drivers as the instrumentality of the crime of DWI. The Court stated, "The automobile of a drunk driver is the quintessential instrumentality of a crime..."
- The Court rejected Petitioner's argument that this program was a violation of the separation of powers because the forfeiture was equivalent to a new punishment. NYCLU argued that the implementation of such a program without specific powers from the State Legislature was invalid. The Court ruled that this was a civil matter and as such, does not constitute punishment and is not violative of separation of powers.
- The Court also rejected NYCLU's argument that the City's local law was pre-empted by the State's Asset Forfeiture Law. Justice Stallman adopted the findings of several other Courts, which had ruled that the two laws were extremely different and that the State Law did not intend to pre-empt any local law.
- The Court further rejected the argument that the Police violated the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by seizing Petitioner's automobile without a warrant. The Court, citing authority which included a U.S. Supreme Court decision rendered just two days ago, refused to adopt NYCLU's argument.
- The Court also rejected the Due Process arguments raised by NYCLU, finding that the procedures in place adequately account for the rights of the drunk driver. The Court stated, "...[T]he City's interest in deterring drunk driving and ensuring that an order of forfeiture can be subsequently enforced, clearly outweighs the private interest affected."
- NYCLU also argued that the forfeiture of a drunk driver's automobile constituted an excessive fine in violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. The Court rejected this argument and stated, "When the gravity of the offense and its unquestioned societal impact are compared with petitioner's and his wife's inconvenience, the vehicle's retention and forfeiture is not unreasonably harsh as a matter of law."
Since February 22, 1999, when New York City began confiscating the vehicles of intoxicated drivers, through May 16th, there were 91 fewer DWI-related accidents -- a decrease of 21.31 percent, and DWI-related deaths decreased 28.57 percent compared to the same period last year. Through May 19th, the Police Department has made 1,107 DWI-related arrests -- a 16 percent decrease in total arrests over the same period last year -- and seized 405 vehicles. Arrests made during the first month of the initiative found that 94 percent of those arrested were first time offenders.
Go to Press
Releases | Giuliani Archives
| Mayor's Office | NYC.gov
Contact Us | FAQs | Privacy Statement | Site Map