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Chronic offenders might pay more in Oakdale

OAKDALE — The difference between being cited and convicted for a traffic violation could become a moot point in Oakdale.

Police Chief Marty West wants "chronic traffic offenders" to pay an additional $60 before they get back vehicles impounded by his officers. The standard rate is $110, so their cost would be $170.

The city would receive an extra $51,000 a year, West said, because each month his officers impound 70 cars whose owners would be labeled "chronic offenders" if the City Council approves his request at its meeting tonight.

What concerns some in the legal community, however, is the definition of "chronic offender."

Under West's proposal, merely being cited is enough to earn a scarlet letter. But receiving a citation means nothing more than receiving a ticket, attorneys say; it's simply an officer's opinion.

"In Oakdale, you are going to be presumed guilty until proven innocent, which is backwards from what it should be," defense attorney Frank Carson said. "Citations are often given, and then it's found nothing was wrong."

If the council approves the measure, drivers previously cited for a variety of violations -- anywhere in the world, according to West, any time in their lives -- are chronic offenders if cited for a similar violation in Oakdale.

Under this proposal, for example, a driver cited for reckless driving would be a chronic offender if he had been cited for the same thing in Texas in 1960, even if a judge found the driver not guilty in both situations.

Or if cited for driving without a license once, a person could be labeled a chronic offender and hit with the $60 fee, even if the citation is dismissed.

The $170 is in addition to what the tow company charges to release the vehicle.

"Calling someone a chronic offender, without any conviction, sounds a lot like they're targeting troublemakers," said Carson, who has taken on and won a number of civil rights cases.

West's request to the council lists eight violations that would allow his officers to impound a vehicle, including having an unregistered vehicle, driving without a license and being arrested while operating the vehicle.

A citation is not a conviction, Carson said, it just means an officer believes you violated a law. Officers don't convict, the judicial system does. A driver can admit guilt, which would be a conviction, or fight the citation.

"Every day I'm in court, I see people who were cited but never convicted," Carson said. "Oftentimes, there's a case of mistaken identity, especially when dealing with Hispanic surnames."

The additional fee would be a particular burden for the poor, Carson said, who are often targeted by similar laws and codes.

Oakdale needs to charge the additional $60, West said, because officers spend an extra hour dealing with impounded vehicles owned by people who would fit the proposed "chronic" standard.

The city's $110 impound fee is based on a 2007 study that analyzed the cost to the department. It did not analyze the cost of dealing with chronic offenders, according to West, and he said that is an additional $60 per vehicle.

A chronic offender clause would be a windfall for the city, West said. The department impounded 565 vehicles the first six months of this year, 87 percent driven by chronic offenders.

The City Council meeting is today at 7 p.m. at 227 N. Second Ave.

OTHER ACTION

Also on tonight's agenda for the Oakdale City Council:

A proposal to pay McPhee Masonry of Oakdale $20,364 to reinforce a retaining wall alongside J Street. The street was extended and the wall was built by McPhee in 2005 to accommodate construction of the new Oak Valley Hospital. The top of the wall is in danger of toppling on pedestrians, the city said.

An update on the Crane Road flooding and dumping of debris by builders who were working on the west edge of the Bridle Ridge development and possibly others.

A discussion on whether the Walgreen's to be built on West F Street between California and Laurel avenues should be required to pay a portion of the cost to erect a traffic signal, as the Planning Commission recommended.

A recommendation the city adopt an ordinance banning medicinal marijuana dispensaries for fear they would hurt the quality of life and increase the city's crime rate. The city has an interim ordinance banning the dispensaries.

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