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Law Enforcement Can Seize Vehicle if You Meet This Criteria in NC

If you are a driver in North Carolina, it’s crucial to stay aware of the law regarding vehicle seizure. Officers in the state have the right to seize your car if you meet one of three criteria. In this blog post, we will discuss these criteria and how you can reclaim your vehicle if law enforcement seizes it. Keep reading for more information!

When Can a Law Enforcement Agency Seize Vehicle Rights?

If officers charge you with impaired driving of a motor vehicle, they may seize possession of the car you’re driving if:

  • You face charges for an impaired driving offense. And your driver’s license is revoked due to prior impaired driving offense.
  • You face charges for an impaired driving offense. And you do not possess a valid driver’s license or auto insurance policy.
  • You face charges for felony speeding to elude arrest. In eluding arrest cases, officers seize possession of the vehicle. They may impound it pending conviction or dismissal of the charges.
  • The vehicle is stolen.

What Happens After My Vehicle Is Seized?

You can find out where the police department towed seized vehicles by contacting the law enforcement officer agency that apprehended you. However, once you’re charged, don’t contact law enforcement directly. Instead, contact your attorney. 

 A seizing agency may include:

  • State Highway Patrols
  • Police departments
  • County sheriffs

In the beginning, your vehicle seized by law enforcement stays at a local storage facility. However, a tow truck will take your vehicle to a state contractor facility after a few days.

If you were arrested, you might worry about your personal property in the vehicle. When you contact the facility with your vehicle, you can show proof that you own the vehicle or the items you need to retrieve.

You may be able to remove the property attached to the vehicle if it is not connected to the crime. The DMV also prohibits the seized motor vehicle’s title from transfer to another owner unless authorized by court order. (1)

Getting Your Seized Vehicle Back

Before your trial, it may be possible to obtain the release of the vehicle. You may ask for the release of the vehicle involved by showing that:

  • A court dismissed or found you not guilty of the impaired driving charge that led to the vehicle seizure.
  • You can prove you had a valid license and insurance during the seizure. In this case, file a petition with the clerk of superior court’s office in the county where you face charges. There is no reason to delay filing your petition until after your impaired driving case resolution. If the prosecutor allows it, you can have your vehicle released back to you. However, if the prosecutor does not give consent, request a hearing with the clerk of court. At the hearing, a judge will decide if you can have your vehicle back.
  • You can prove that your license was not actually suspended for an impaired driving offense. 

In the case of felony speeding to elude arrest, you can file a form to ask for the forfeited vehicle back. The Clerk of Court will order the release of the vehicle to you before trial if:

  • 24 hours have passed since the seizure AND
  • You posted a bond equal to the vehicle’s fair market value (If you are found guilty, they will repossess the vehicle.)

However, if you’re thinking you’ll make someone else the owner and let them keep your car, the DMV will not allow you to change the ownership of a seized vehicle unless authorized by court order. Talk to an experienced attorney if you believe there is reason you should be allowed to change woenrship of your vehicle.

Court Sends Notification to Owners and Lienholders

To ensure lienholders and record owners are informed, a written notice of impoundment due to seizure will go out within two workdays. This notification will detail the reason for the motor vehicle’s seizure as well as how to request its release.

Furthermore, if the vehicle becomes damaged, the Division will also notify all insurance companies associated with the accident through written notification.

Proving You’re An “Innocent” Owner

Suppose you let someone borrow your vehicle and a police officer seizes the vehicle for valid reasons. In that case, you can retrieve your vehicle before the facility sells it. Show proof of ownership and pay towing and storage costs (which may never be waived).

However, you can only do this temporarily and by paying bond. Alternatively, you can wait until after the driver is found not guilty of the charge that led to the seizure.

Or, you can go through a judicial process to prove that you are an “innocent” owner. As an innocent owner letting someone else drive your car, contacting the facility as soon as possible is crucial to retrieve your vehicle.

As an innocent owner, if your vehicle is subject to possession, you can file:

  • This petition in the county where the driver was charged with impaired driving OR
  • File this petition in the county where the driver was charged with felony speeding to elude seizure

Filing A Petition Before A Court Date

If you are filing the petition before the defendant’s trial, the clerk of court will review your petition and issue a ruling. An administrative judge will review and rule on your petition if you file the petition after the defendant’s trial and conviction.

You are considered an “innocent” owner by law if any one of the following circumstances applies to you:

  • If officers seized the vehicle in an impaired driving case and you did not know that the driver’s license was revoked,
  • If officers seized the vehicle in an impaired driving case or you did not know that the driver lacked a valid license and liability insurance.
  • The driver drove the vehicle without your permission, and you have filed a police report for unauthorized use of the vehicle and agreed to prosecute the driver. 
  • Someone stole the vehicle from you, and you reported the theft of the vehicle. (2)

Expedited Sales of Seized Vehicles

It also is possible that the vehicle will be sold before trial if the accumulated towing and storage charges reach a certain level. This is referred to as an “expedited sale.” If this happens, the net proceeds of the sale will go to the clerk of court’s office.

The proceeds will take the vehicle’s place in the seizure process and be subject to further court orders, just as the vehicle would have been.

Other Consequences You May Face

If you’re the vehicle’s driver and officers arrest you, you may be responsible for more than the vehicle you lost.

The court will likely also order you to pay restitution to the county board of education or the motor vehicle owner or lienholder:

  • Towing fees
  • Storage fees
  • Sale of the motor vehicle fees

Impaired Driving Is No Joke

If you’re arrested on probable cause and detained for impaired driving, it’s crucial to hire competent representation as soon as possible.

During your DWI investigation, law enforcement will collect evidence against you through breath and chemical tests. They may ask you to sign a release from your Miranda rights, and they may record or question those you discuss your case with.

Your best defense is to remain respectful but refuse to discuss your case with anyone but your DWI criminal defense attorney.

Our Experienced North Carolina DWI Attorneys Can Help

At Scharff Law Firm, we can defend you from charges related to impaired driving during a court hearing and in making an appeal if necessary. We’ve been successful in helping defendants fight impaired driving charges!

We also can help retrieve your vehicle from the facility. We understand how important it is for you to retain possession of your vehicle during impaired driving charges. We’ll do our best to ensure that you can retrieve your vehicle before anything happens.

Contact us today to protect your rights and find your way forward!