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Having Your Car Impounded After a DUI

It was the perfect evening -- dinner date at your favorite restaurant with a cocktail and a bottle of wine. Only the police officers at the DUI checkpoint didn’t think your sobriety was perfect, and now you’ve been charged with driving under the influence. If this is not your first offense, you may have to end up not just bailing yourself out of jail, but bailing your car out of an impound as well. When and why do authorities impound cars in DUI cases? Here is a quick introduction to car impounding after a DUI.

Why Impound the Car?

Under some state DUI laws, drivers 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 growing use 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 can be 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.

How Does the Process Work?

Vehicle confiscation typically is handled through a civil administrative process, rather than as a penalty imposed by a criminal court following a DUI proceeding. You usually have 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, you may regain possession of the vehicle after paying fines and administrative fees. Vehicle confiscation is considered a deterrent of potential future DUI offenses rather than a permanent solution. However, vehicle seizure and forfeiture can be permanent in some rare cases.

In Florida, for instance, 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.

More Resources

A DUI charge can be scary enough without adding the worry of losing your car. If you have been arrested or charged with DUI, or even if you just want to know your rights in such a scenario, you can consult with an experienced DUI attorney where you live. This is important because DUI laws and penalties can vary significantly between states and even cities. If you would like more general information on this topic you can visit FindLaw’s DUI section.

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