DWI and Vehicle Seizure

“I was charged with DWI in North Carolina and my vehicle was seized, and I am told it is going to be sold, is this true and how can I stop it?”

The short answer is: “it depends”. If you or someone you know has had their vehicle seized related to a Driving While Impaired (DWI) charge, contact the experienced attorneys on the Dummit Fradin Driving While Impaired practice team as soon as possible because timing is critical and storage costs are rising daily.

Pursuant to North Carolina law, a driver charged with DWI may have his/her vehicle seized if the driver’s license of the person driving the vehicle was revoked due to a prior Driving While Impaired (DWI) revocation, or if the driver was not validly licensed and not covered by the requisite liability insurance policy. Specifically, N.C.G.S. 20-28.3 requires law enforcement officers to seize motor vehicles where they have probable cause to believe the driver is guilty impaired driving offense (i.e. DWI or Driving After Consuming <21) and at the time of the offense:

  1. The driver’s license is already revoked for a prior impaired driving offense, OR
  2. The driver is not validly licensed and not covered by a liability insurance policy.

The law enforcement office MUST seize the vehicle even if the driver is not the owner of the vehicle. Once the vehicle is seized, it will be towed to a local towing storage facility. The three most frequently used towing/storage companies that have contracts with North Carolina are Eastway Wrecker, Tarheel Specialties, and Martin Edwards & Associates. Once the vehicles arrive at these facilities they begin accruing daily storage fees that are required to be paid by statute and cannot be waived by court order. Furthermore, under the N.C.G.S. 20-28.3 expedited sales provisions, the vehicle may be forfeited prior to resolution of the criminal case and without a court order. If the vehicle is valued at less than $1500.00, it may be sold after ninety (90) days from seizure. Otherwise, a vehicle may be sold at any time the outstanding towing and storage costs exceed eighty-five (85) percent of the vehicle’s fair market value. The proceeds from theses are sales (after the towing/storage costs are paid) are distributed to local schools.

Generally, if you are not the driver of the vehicle but you are the owner of the vehicle according to DMV records, you may be able to get your vehicle back through what is commonly referred to as an ‘innocent owner petition’. To classify as an innocent owner you must fall into one of the following 5 categories:

  1. You did not know and had no reason to know that the actual driver’s license was revoked, OR you did not know and had no reason know that the driver did not valid insurance and licensure.
  2. You knew that the actual driver’s license was revoked, OR you knew that the driver did not have the requisite liability insurance but you did not give the driver permission to drive the vehicle and filed a police report for unauthorized use.
  3. You had reported the vehicle being stolen (the actual driver stole the vehicle from you and committed the offense).
  4. Your business rents vehicles and either:
    1. The driver was listed as authorized user but you had no actual knowledge of driver’s license revocation; or
    2. The driver was not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement.
  5. Your business leases motor vehicles and you held legal title to said vehicle, and did not know at the time of lease that the driver’s license was revoked.

In contrast, if you were the driver/owner, and the person charged with the impaired driving offense, it is possible to get the vehicle released (i.e. avoid forfeiture) upon proof that at the time of seizure, your license was not actually revoked for a previous impaired driving offense. For innocent owners or suspected impaired driver owners, the Driving While Impaired practice team at Dummit Fradin can help. Our seasoned attorneys have successfully argued for both innocent owner and impaired driver releases of vehicles. The mechanics and procedures of obtaining a seized vehicle release are technical in nature but the Dummit Fradin practice team is here to assist you.

Another important consideration pertains to timing. Under N.C.G.S. 20-28.3(m), the district court in the applicable county is required to try cases involving Driving While Impaired vehicle forfeitures on the arresting officer’s next court date or within 30 days of the offense, whichever comes first. This statutorily expedited trial procedure is atypical for most DWI cases, which can take months, and even years to resolve. Furthermore, the statute provides narrow carve outs for continuances by the State, and this is potentially beneficial for persons charged of this offense. The Dummit Fradin Driving While Impaired practice team has successfully disposed of DWI cases in this early stage because the State has failed to adhere to the statutory procedure. Contact the Dummit Fradin Driving While Impaired practice team today.