A Sonoma County Superior Court Judge, Mark Tansil, ruled against a Mexican man on Tuesday who had been cited four times for driving without a California State-issued license. Demitro Martinez, who currently resides in Rohnert Park challenged a ticket that he received in May after being pulled over for a driving infraction. In addition, Martinez’s vehicle was impounded. The impound issue has sparked controversy in Sonoma County and throughout California with many Illegal Immigrants’ rights groups and Attorneys backing an end to 30-day impounds of vehicles driven by illegal immigrants.
The judge ruled that those living in California cannot drive with a foreign license, as was the case of Martinez, who had a Mexico-issued license that expired in 2015. Martinez’s lawyer argued that though the license was issued in Mexico, he was a licensed driver which made the impound illegal. Judge Tansil rejected that argument, finding the impound to be within the realms of the law, but requested more information before making a final ruling on August 30th.
Sonoma County officials quietly relaxed the policy, in which unlicensed drivers were subject to a 30 day impound, back in February at the urging of activist groups. Sonoma County law enforcement began allowing it’s officers to exercise “discretion” in impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers, lining up with the policies of law enforcement agencies in cities like San Jose and San Francisco. The policy now allows a first-time unlicensed driver to park the vehicle at a safe location at the scene, having the vehicle towed or releasing it to a licensed driver. The new policy has mixed reviews from illegal immigrant activist groups and pro-illegal immigrant attorneys.
Judge Tansil’s ruling has reignited the conversation about the Sonoma County vehicle impound policy. Should police be able to impound the vehicles of unlicensed, illegal drivers? Should rules be changed when a number of people choose to break the law or break the rules? or a better question, Where is the relaxed policies for first-time offenders in other areas of law enforcement? After all, the argument used by many of the activist groups could be used regarding shoplifting, drunk driving or driving while talking on a cell phone.