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Article Italy: Constitutional Court Declares the Automatic Revocation of a Driver's License and Seizure of a Vehicle Unconstitutional

On March 28, 2024, Italy’s Constitutional Court declared a provision of the New Highway Code unconstitutional because it provided for mandatory judicial revocation of a driver’s license and the vehicle’s seizure in certain cases. (Decision No. 52 of March 28, 2024 (in Italian).)

Underlying Case

The Constitutional Court declared the constitutional illegitimacy of article 214, paragraph 8 of Legislative Decree No. 285 of April 30, 1992 ((New Highway Code) as amended by article 23-bis, paragraph 1(b), of Decree-Law No. 113 of October 4, 2018, which was converted into law through Law No. 132 of December 1, 2018. (Considerations of Fact No. 1, para. 1.)

The challenged provision required that a person be punished with a monetary penalty and the additional administrative sanctions of revocation of the license and confiscation of the vehicle in cases where the person has control of a vehicle during a period in which the vehicle is subject to seizure and drives the vehicle illegally or allows others to drive it illegally. (Id. No. 1, para. 2.)

The constitutional challenge originated in a request by the Justice of the Peace of Forli’ in May of 2023. The requesting tribunal raised the possibility that the challenged provision was contrary to article 3 of the Italian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law, and also contrary to constitutional principles on the reasonableness and proportionality of penalties. (Id. Nos. 1, para. 2 and 3, para. 1.)

In the underlying case, the claimant had been punished for having permitted the circulation of a vehicle—which was in his custody—despite the fact that the vehicle had been subjected to administrative seizure. (Id. No. 2, para. 2.) The referring tribunal noted that the claimant could benefit from a more favorable penalty consisting of administrative suspension of his driver’s license, as he had not directly driven the vehicle, and that in that situation, it would be necessary for the judge to investigate the claimant’s “degree of fault in not having adopted suitable precautions to prevent the vehicle from being put into circulation by other persons.” (Id. No. 2, para. 3.) Instead, the referring tribunal stated, the challenged provision provided for the automatic revocation of the driver’s license, regardless of the person’s conduct. (Id.)

The referring court also recalled that the same New Highway Code establishes a sanction of license suspension for more serious conduct (e.g. driving under the influence of alcohol), which represents a danger to traffic safety. (Id. No. 3, para. 3.) At the same time, the referring court noted, the New Highway Code includes the additional penalty of license revocation only in cases of blood alcohol levels exceeding 1.5 grams per liter, in the event of a repeat offense within a two-year period, or when the driver causes a road accident. (Id.)

The referring court said that as a result of imposing the automatic penalty of license revocation, the challenged provision would be excessively harsh and disproportionate in constitutional terms compared to the actual offensiveness of the sanctioned conduct as it precludes the judge from evaluating, in particular, the defendant’s conduct to gauge the applicable penalty. (Id. No. 3, para. 4.)

The referring judge also cited two previous decisions by the Italian Constitutional Court in support of its request. The first was Decision No. 88 of 2019, which declared the constitutional illegitimacy of another provision of the New Highway Code, because it did not provide that, in the event of conviction or sentencing for the crimes of road homicide and serious or very serious roadside personal injury, the judge may order, as an alternative to the revocation of the driving license, its suspension in the absence of listed aggravating circumstances, thus providing for judicial discretion instead of the automatic penalty of license revocation. (Id. No. 3, para. 6.)

Decision No. 246 of 2022 was the second cited decision, in which the Constitutional Court declared the unconstitutionality of another provision of the New Highway Code that concerned the violation of the obligations of the custodian of a seized vehicle, because it had mandatorily applied the accessory sanction of license revocation, instead of allowing its application based on judicial discretion. (Id. No. 3, para. 7.) As a result of this constitutional decision, the revised version of the New Highway Code provision would overlap with the challenged provision as both cover the violation of custody duties over vehicles subjected to administrative seizure. (Id.)

Reasoning of the Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court took note that in its Decision No. 246 of 2022, it had declared the unconstitutionality of a New Highway Code provision imposing the automatic revocation of a driver’s license, because it violated article 3 of Italian the Constitution due to the lack of necessary proportionality of the administrative sanction. (Considerations of Law No. 3, para. 4.) Consequently, the Court transformed the revocation of the license from an automatic sanction to a discretionary sanction applicable following an evaluation of the concrete case. (Id. No. 3, para. 3.) The Court mentioned that Decision No. 246 came on the heels of previous decisions where the same court had struck down automatic revocation of the driver’s license under other provisions of the New Highway Code. (Id.) The Court concluded that by accepting the unconstitutionality request against the challenged provision, it would simply be reiterating its previous rulings. (Id. No. 3, para. 5.)

Decision of the Constitutional Court

The court declared the constitutional illegitimacy of article 214, paragraph 8 of the New Highway Code because it provides mandatory, rather than discretionary, judicial application of the accessory administrative penalties of revocation of the driver’s license and confiscation of the vehicle. (Holding, and Considerations of Law No. 3, para. 6.)

Dante Figueroa, Law Library of Congress
May 9, 2024

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Chicago citation style:

Figueroa, Dante. Italy: Constitutional Court Declares the Automatic Revocation of a Driver's License and Seizure of a Vehicle Unconstitutional. 2024. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-05-08/italy-constitutional-court-declares-the-automatic-revocation-of-a-drivers-license-and-seizure-of-a-vehicle-unconstitutional/.

APA citation style:

Figueroa, D. (2024) Italy: Constitutional Court Declares the Automatic Revocation of a Driver's License and Seizure of a Vehicle Unconstitutional. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-05-08/italy-constitutional-court-declares-the-automatic-revocation-of-a-drivers-license-and-seizure-of-a-vehicle-unconstitutional/.

MLA citation style:

Figueroa, Dante. Italy: Constitutional Court Declares the Automatic Revocation of a Driver's License and Seizure of a Vehicle Unconstitutional. 2024. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-05-08/italy-constitutional-court-declares-the-automatic-revocation-of-a-drivers-license-and-seizure-of-a-vehicle-unconstitutional/>.