When Can the Police Seize My Car?

traffic offenses

The most common criminal charges are related to traffic offenses. Nearly everybody drives, and nobody is perfect. Take a look at the chart below from the North Carolina Judicial Branch website, which lists the most charges filed in the state:

When Can the Police Seize My Car Graph

As you can see, every charge in the top 10 is related to driving. Traffic offenses have two main criminal consequences: driver’s license suspensions, and vehicle seizures. This article will address when the police can seize your car as the result of a traffic offense.

Seizure and Forfeiture of Motor Vehicles

Police have the power to seize a motor vehicle and impound it for various reasons. For instance, if the car was allegedly used in the commission of a crime like in a shooting or the getaway vehicle in a robbery then police would seize and process the vehicle for forensic evidence. If the car was allegedly used to transport drugs, then police can seize that car pursuant to the laws governing drug cases.

But traffic matters are different. We don’t expect the police to take our car as evidence that we got a ticket. Under the law, police are limited as to when they can impound a driver’s car when they are charged with a traffic offense. The offense must be one where the car is subject to forfeiture proceedings. That means that a judge can order that the state gets ownership over the car and it can be sold to the public at auction. Just because a car is seized, that does not mean it will be forfeited. That will only happen if a person is convicted of the crime, or if they fail to appear within 60 days after court and the state can prove that they are guilty.

How Can I Lose My Car?

So what traffic offenses can result in the police taking your car? Here is a list:

  • Being arrested for Driving While Impaired while subject to an Impaired Driving License Revocation (20-28.2(b))
  • Being arrested for Driving While Impaired while not having a valid driver’s license and insurance (20-28(b1))
  • Felony Speeding to Elude Arrest (20-28(b2))
  • Having a vehicle with stolen parts or without manufacturer’s numbers (20-108)
  • Prearranged Speed Competition (20-141.3(a))
  • Cars involved in Chop Shop activity (14-72.7)
  • Cars used to sell other motor vehicles for scrap illegally (20-62.1)
  • The new offense of operating a car during a “Street Takeover” (20-141.10)

What is the Procedure for Getting My Car Back?

An owner of the car who is not the person charged may petition for the release of the car pretrial. To do that the owner must pay all towing and storage charges and:

  • the car has been seized for more than a day,
  • they pay a bond equal to the value of the car,
  • they execute an acknowledgment that the driver has been charged and will not operate the car again while charges are pending,
  • this is the first time they have executed the acknowledgment or paid the bond (20-28.3(e))

The person charged with an offense can get the car out of the impound lot on their own under limited circumstances. If the seizure of the car was due to an issue with a license revocation, the driver can petition the court and have a hearing to prove that their license was not revoked because of an impaired driving revocation at the time of their arrest.

The bond for a car involved in a speed competition, street takeover, or fleeing to elude is double the amount of the value of the car, making that car even harder to take possession of. Failing to appear in court will not only result in an order for arrest but also the bond for the car will lost and the police will seize it again. Paying the bond must be done promptly since the county can sell cars that were seized before the completion of the case under certain circumstances. So if your car is seized, you should contact the police as soon as possible so that the towing and storage fees do not get too high.

Remember, if there is a conviction for the charge that resulted in the car being taken away, that’s the end of the car. It will be ordered forfeited by the court and sold at public auction or repurposed for government use. So you are going to want to fight the charges with a good lawyer if you can. If a bond was paid, the entire bond will be refunded when the car is forfeited unless it was paid by a bail bondsman.

Innocent Owner Defense

All statutes have provisions that if an innocent owner’s car is taken and used to commit one of these crimes by another person, that owner can petition the court for the release of the car. This can happen when a car is stolen or used by another person than the owner without their knowledge. The accused person must have no ownership interest in the car and cannot be the primary owner of the car. While an innocent owner must pay towing and storage fees, they do not need to pay any additional bond for the release of the vehicle.

Can the Police Take My Car for Minor Traffic Offenses?

Surprisingly, under certain laws, the police may seize your car for even minor traffic-related misdemeanors. Certain city ordinances prohibit abandoning vehicles on public streets. If someone is arrested and has to abandon their car, the city might have the car impounded under one of these ordinances. Additionally, if the police rule that the vehicle causes a hazard then they can initiate a seizure of the vehicle. For instance, if a person is driving without insurance, then that driver’s car might be towed since allowing that person to continue to drive the car without insurance is a hazard to other motorists. If the car is going to be left on a street or highway in violation of a parking ordinance, then it could also be towed.

Luckily even though the car can be seized, notice must be given about where the car will be stowed and how the car can be returned to the owner. The owner also has the right to a hearing to determine the legal procedure as to how the car can be returned. These procedures are found in 20-219.11.

My Car is Gone, What Should I Do?

An experienced lawyer can assist you with working on getting your car back quickly. At Jetton and Meredith, our team has successfully negotiated for the release of many vehicles back to our clients. We know what a huge impact missing transportation can have on your life. Without access to a car grocery shopping, getting medications, or going to work all become difficult. Not to mention the huge financial burden involved with getting alternate transportation.

Call one of our attorneys today at (704) 931-5535 for help getting your car back, so you can get your life back!