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DUI auto seizures illegal, judges say

Three Hillsborough County judges Monday declared part of the state's new drunken driving law unconstitutional.

At issue was the portion of the law that says the vehicle a person is driving will be impounded when he or she is convicted _ regardless of who owns the car. The impoundment is for 10 days for a driver's first conviction.

In rulings released Monday, Hillsborough Judges Cynthia Holloway, Daniel Perry and Dick Greco Jr. said that part of the law is vague and violates the due process clause of the Florida Constitution.

The judges also said the law violates the state Constitution's equal protection clause. A person who is driving a borrowed car when arrested suffers no impoundment penalty, while the owner has his car

impounded and must pay related costs.

The law also fails to address other scenarios, such as when the car is stolen or is sold by the defendant after his or her arrest, judges said.

"This statute punishes the vehicle, not the person who committed the crime," one judge wrote.

Prosecutors who argued before five county judges last week that the law should be upheld as constitutional said they would review the rulings before deciding whether they would appeal the decision to a higher court.

Two other judges who heard the constitutional challenge last week have not ruled yet. Another judge who has a challenge pending in his court said he will rule with Perry, Holloway and Greco.

The judges' rulings are binding only in their courts, although other judges considering challenges to the law may consider the orders.

The motions, filed by Tampa lawyers Victor Pellegrino and William Mumbauer, did not address the law's change in the blood-alcohol level at which a driver is considered impaired. As of Jan. 1, that threshold dropped from 0.10 to 0.08 percent.