The Washington Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Thursday that a $547 impoundment fine against a homeless man who was living in his truck was "excessive."
According to court documents, Steven Gregory Long parked his truck on Seattle city property for longer than 72 hours, incurring a city infraction and leading to his truck being impounded. Long had agreed to a payment plan, however he later argued that the impoundment of his truck violated a state homestead law as well as a federal excessive fine clause.
At the time of the impoundment, Long, who is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, was living in his truck and working as a general tradesman while keeping tools in his truck.
After his truck was impounded, Long requested a trial to contest the parking ticket. The court found that he had parked illegally, but waived the $44 ticket and reduced the impoundment cost from $946.61 to $547.12 while adding a $10 administrative fee. According to the payment plan, Long would pay $50 a month, though according to court documents he said he felt "forced" to agree or risk losing his truck.
The court ruled that an inquiry into whether Long had the ability to pay these fees was necessary as his circumstances at the time had made it so that he could not easily pay $50 a month.
"We conclude that the payment plan as imposed was excessive. However, a reasonable fine may still be constitutional and appropriate," it ruled.
The court wrote in its ruling that "the city certainly has an interest in keeping its streets clear and free of traffic, but the offense of overstaying one’s welcome in a specific location is not particularly egregious." It also noted that Seattle had suspended its 72-hour parking violation notice that Long was fined for, indicating that the city also viewed breaking this rule as a minor offense.
The ruling also pointed to the fact that this incident was not tied to any other criminal activity and the harm caused by it was minimal as Long had not parked in an area that was in high demand.
"During that time, Long’s truck held his clothes, food, bedding, and various work tools essential to his job as a general tradesman. After the truck was towed, Long slept outside before seeking shelter from the cold weather, and he contracted influenza," the court found. "These facts indicate Long could not afford to pay the $547.12 assessment."
"The impoundment severely compromised Long’s ability to work—in other words, his livelihood," the court added.