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AGO 1950 No. 279 - May 22, 1950
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

STATUS OF VEHICLES ABANDONED BY OWNERS OR TAKEN INTO CUSTODY AND STORED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS

1. Vehicles abandoned by the registered or legal owners thereof upon the public highways shall be taken into custody of the sheriff of the county and upon the expiration of forty-five days shall be declared abandoned.

2. Vehicles taken into custody owing to the violation of traffic laws or regulations or held by law enforcement officers as material evidence shall also be stored, and upon the expiration of fifteen days shall be abandoned vehicles, unless said law enforcement officers inform the garage men that they are still in the custody of their office.

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                                                                   May 22, 1950

Honorable Hugh H. Evans
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Spokane 11, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 279

Attn:     Earl W. Foster
                        Deputy Prosecuting Attorney

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your request of April 29, 1950, in which you have asked various questions concerning vehicles either left on the public highways or taken into custody by law enforcement officers.

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            A vehicle left on the public highways shall be taken into custody by the sheriff of the county.  Where vehicles are taken by law enforcement officers after an accident or in connection with criminal proceedings and stored with a garage man or other storer of cars and more than fifteen days elapse, said vehicles may be declared abandoned and sold as are abandoned cars, unless claimed by their owners.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            In your first question you ask concerning cars found apparently abandoned along side streets or highways having been left unattended for a considerable period of time.  You are correct in your own summary of what this answer should be, namely, that the sheriff of the county should receive custody thereof and store the car until the expiration of forty-five days, as provided by section 143, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 6360-143).

            Where vehicles have been removed by law enforcement officers from the streets or highways because they constitute traffic hazards as a result of accidents, these vehicles must also be stored awaiting the owner or legal owner to claim the same.  If they are left for more than fifteen days, the same statute provides that unless left by the owner thereof with a garage man, upon the expiration of fifteen days they also shall be abandoned vehicles.

            Where vehicles are taken into custody by officers as the result of an arrest of the operators for criminal or other offenses, or have been impounded for improper parking in prohibited areas, these vehicles must also be stored, and if a period of more than fifteen days elapses, they are also subject to the abandonment provision of the statute above cited if stored with a car storer or a garage man.

            Where, however, vehicles are taken into custody by law enforcement officers to be held as material evidence, the statute would not apply.  The law enforcement officers however, must inform the garage man or storer that the vehicles are in custody of a law enforcement officer.  The fifteen day storage without contract by owner provision of the statute is concerned primarily with preventing stolen vehicles from being hidden out in garages or storehouses of vehicles in order to avoid the law rather than to prevent their being held as evidence in criminal cases.  You will note that the statute is concerned with stolen as well as abandoned vehicles and regularizes the handling of such stolen vehicles.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

PHILIP W. RICHARDSON
Assistant Attorney General

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