In 1999, the St. Petersburg City Council enacted a city ordinance authorizing a police officer to impound any vehicle used to solicit a prostitute, make a drug deal or carry drugs. Use of the ordinance was suspended in 2003 when a lawsuit in another Florida city (Mulligan vs. City of Hollywood) challenged legality of a similar law. In that case, the 4th District Court of Appeal held that the impound ordinance was pre-empted by the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. The city appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which overturned the appellate decision and upheld the ordinance.
Starting Monday, St. Petersburg police will begin enforcing the impoundment ordinance again. The law allows police to impound a vehicle when they have probable cause to believe it was involved in prostitution or lewd and lascivious acts as defined by state statute or in the purchase or use of illegal drugs. The city ordinance applies only to a vehicle under the control or use of its owner or co-owner at the time of the impoundment. Car owners will have two options to recover the vehicle: Pay an administrative civil penalty of $500 (which goes into the city's general fund) plus towing and storage fees, or they will have 15 days to contest the seizure by requesting an administrative hearing before a hearing master. If they take no action within 30 days, the car will be deemed abandoned and turned over to the towing company. This ordinance gives officers one more tool to fight illegal drugs and prostitution.