Embassy staff arrested in the US

According to this documentary I saw, here’s how that scenario would play out:

I doubt that local police, especially an officer in the field, are in any position to determine diplomatic status of a foreign national. It’s easier to detain and let the higher ups deal with the paperwork.

Yeah, and to degree diplomats are generally expected to be professionals and have some semblance of knowing how to act. There is nothing in the Vienna conventions (the international “standards” for treatment of people on diplomatic credentials, that most of the world agreed to back in the 1960s) that precludes local authorities exercising normal police power over a diplomat doing things that would subject an ordinary person to police power. It’s just more that once the situation is fully assessed and it’s verified the person involved has diplomatic immunity from prosecution, they should generally be released. But someone causing problems with a cop on the street, there’s nothing really violating our agreements to detain that person until hard confirmation comes from the State Department that the individual is a diplo.

Keep in mind diplomatic credentials are frequently used to cover up espionage, and technically when a host country finds proof a diplomat is actually a spy, their only legal recourse is to expel the person (this happens fairly regularly between the United States and Russia, both of whom use intelligence agency officials masquerading as diplomats quite regularly against one another), but diplomatic immunity isn’t immunity from “activities” being taken against you. There are many, many stories of U.S. diplomats stationed in Moscow getting stopped for “paper checks” that just happen to take a really unpleasantly long time (say an hour instead of 10 minutes", or who will notice cars following them etc etc. The only real recourse to stuff like that is to complain through formal channels, and where does that really go? Basically nowhere.

And tell the boys in D.C to do the same with the Russians.

The writers of cop dramas are well aware of the parking ticket issue. I remember a scene in Law & Order where a diplomat smugly told a detective (probably Lenny Briscoe) that the parking laws didn’t apply to him because of his immunity. The detective replied that it was the diplomat himself, and not his car, who enjoyed immunity, and so ordered it impounded anyway.

Note that technically at least in the U.S., U.N. officials aren’t immune from liability for parking fines. They technically are legally obligated to pay them, just due to their diplomatic immunity the city has no legal mechanism to compel it, they can’t be arrested or prosecuted for non-payment.

The State Department also has some policies that target countries that don’t pay parking fines. One is that D.C. and New York are allowed to decline to issue new vehicle plates/registrations to any diplomat with outstanding parking fees, and without such, they can’t legally drive a car on the streets (if they drive an unregistered vehicle, it would be subject to tow/impoundment.) The State Department also has a policy in place that it has issued a “note” on, that lets State withhold from any allocated foreign aid for a country and amount equal to 110% of the total amount of owed parking tickets by that country’s diplomats. It is unclear if State has ever exercised this policy, versus just warned about it.

So is that the case? A vehicle belonging to an embassy can still be impounded?

What happens when they come to retrieve it? Is impound/tow fees a fee-for-service or a fine for breaking the law? I presume the latter need not be paid, but a fee for service is no different than a diplomat going through the McD drivethru and saying “I don’t have to pay for the meal, I’m a diplomat - give me the bag.”

In theory the city could hold the cars until the fines were paid, the diplomats would have no real recourse legally, they could have recourse diplomatically–meaning, they complain to the State Department, State Department leans on the city.

NYC and the UN have had about 65 years of fights over towing and illegal parking and not paying parking fines. Generally, the city has deferred to the State Department and tried to avoid towing UN cars, but there have been instances where the situation got particularly fraught in which towing was implemented. Usually, the threat or initiation of such activities results in State coming to an agreement with the UN. There was an issue in the early 1960s where Haitian diplomats were frequently parking in front of fire hydrants because their consulate was near some, and the city I believe towed some of them, but they eventually worked out an arrangement (some of the hydrants were relocated, the diplomats agreed to stop parking in front of them.) Both Giuliani and Bloomberg threatened to start towing for lack of payment on parking fines, but both times AFAIK the State Department negotiated a settlement, I’m not sure either Mayor actually implemented towing for UN vehicles (but they may have, searching the New York Times archives left me unsure.)

It looks like the January 28th, 1967 issue of the times details the fire hydrant issue reared its head again after a 1963 settlement, and the city did in fact tow a couple dozen diplomat cars, it seems like they worked it out through back channels.

It probably doesn’t matter, practically speaking. The diplomat can either pay the fee/fine to get their car back, or they can break into the impound lot and steal it back with impunity. In the interests of maintaining good foreign relations, they probably opt for the former.

They can try, but the people who own the impound lot are going to stop them via many legal means. If they threaten violence they can expect violence in response. Perhaps they can’t be charged, but they might get shot.

Also, the diplomats who actually have immunity aren’t about getting roughed up by armed guards. Low level thugs won’t have diplomatic immunity.

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Art 22: “The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.”

So, you can’t impound a diplomatic car in order to enforce a legal obligation.

What you can do, though, is move it if its causing an obstruction - e.g. parked across a gate, or in a dangerous spot. So, depending on the nature of the infringement, you can tow it to the pound. But you can’t do this if, e.g., the car is parked in a proper car parking space, but the parking charge has not been paid, or the time paid for has expired.

If you do tow, you can’t make payment of a fine or penalty a condition for recovering the car. You might have an argument about paying a charge for the towing a condition for recovering the car on the grounds that that’s a fee for service, not a tax.

Isn’t that what the law considers “an attachment”?

I presume going 20 miles out of town to retrieve a car on a regular basis might at least make the diplomats think twice.

I assume, too, the issue in New York is that diplomats to the UN are a special case, As host to the UN the USA goes out of its way to not let relations with America interfere with diplomatic status the way diplomats to Washington, for example, might be more amenable to pressure.

It’s Britain not the US, but here’s a case where they tried to do pretty much exactly what you describe (American diplomat’s wife ran down some 19 year old British motorcyclist, then claimed diplomatic immunity and fled):

Death of Harry Dunn - Wikipedia

I think there’s like a 1000+ post thread on that; but something that ended up coming out about that case is the “diplomat’s wife” actually was on a diplomatic credential herself (she works for a U.S. intelligence agency; I think as an analyst for the NSA but I think the details are sketchy.) AIUI, the people in Britain on those credentials (who work at a RAF/US Air Force joint base iirc), the U.S. actually waived diplomatic immunity for them so they are subject to local laws. However either as an oversight or something else, the agreement neglected to also waive the standard immunity for immediate family members; so while the woman should have been subject to British law in her own right, as the “spouse” of another person with diplomatic credentials, she wasn’t subject. I think the U.S. and U.K. agreed to refine the agreement so it’s more logical, but the U.S. has not wavered in its assertion she was always immune from prosecution under the existing agreement, and because State doesn’t want to “water down” its agreements in force, it won’t agree to any effort to retroactively revert that immunity.

I think embassy cars do provide immunity to whoever is in the car. They are part of the embassy so, if you are in a car with the British ambassador, you are subject to British laws, not US laws. Same as if you were standing in their embassy.

A US cop cannot arrest or detain someone in that car any more than they could do so in downtown London.

I don’t think that’s true. I don’t recall Snowden being ferried about in the ambassador’s car - he had to stay cooped up in the Embassy.

Assange, not Snowden.

Possession is 9/10 of the law.

When the USA thought that Snowden was on his way to South America, they had the Bolivian president’s plane forced down in Austria despite diplomatic immunity. It turned out to be faulty “intelligence” (deliberate disinformation?). Had they found Snowden, the fact that he was on a jet protected by diplomatic immunity would not have stopped him from a quick hop to Guantanamo. Presumably nasty diplomatic notes would have been exchanged, but the 500-pound gorilla principle would have prevailed.

I assume the same would apply with Assange - if he had been in a diplomatic vehicle, then many sharp exchanges would follow his abduction, but would not change the outcome.

Diplomatic immunity is usually enforced by the risk of a tit-for-tat response. It depends how badly the government wants to get away with what they want to get away with. Anything can happen, followed by an apology later.

I thought that was only to prove guilt.