Having Your Car Impounded After a DUI
Motorists may have their car impounded after committing a second or third drunk driving offense within a given period of time (usually five years). This vehicle impoundment has the goal of deterring future drunk driving incidents by removing the vehicle from the driver's control. Vehicle confiscation for a DUI or DWI almost always is limited to repeat offenders and it has become much less common with the proliferation of Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs), which prevent intoxicated drivers from starting their car. Since the IID prevents DUI offenders from driving while drunk again, the reasoning goes, the government no longer has any reason to impound the offender's vehicle.
Some state courts have also ruled that vehicle confiscation is an excessive punishment in some cases and have limited its use. This area of DUI-related law continues to evolve, however, so be sure to check the current laws in your state for more information.
Vehicle confiscation typically is handled through a civil administrative process, rather than as a penalty imposed by the sentencing court following a DUI proceeding. An offender usually has the option of an appeal through the civil court after an impoundment rather than through the criminal court that handled the drunk driving charge. In most cases, the offender regains possession of the vehicle after paying fines and administrative fees. Therefore, vehicle confiscation is considered a deterrent of potential future DUI offenses rather than a permanent solution. Vehicle seizure and forfeiture can be permanent in some rare cases, however.
In Florida, a motorist convicted of driving under the influence is subject to vehicle confiscation and forfeiture if his or her license was suspended or revoked at the time because of a prior DUI conviction. Other states have similar rules in place.
Most states require some kind of a test to determine whether vehicle confiscation is unfairly excessive with regard to the underlying criminal offense. Most courts, though, have found that the public danger posed by repeat DUI or DWI offenders justifies confiscation in the majority of such cases.