Being pulled over and arrested for DUI is hard enough without having to worry about losing your car. Unfortunately, that’s a very real possibility in a California DUI case. But you can almost always get the car back, and in many cases it’s never taken away at all.
During a DUI arrest the police will do one of two things with your car. They may allow another (sober) driver to take the car from you and drive it home. Or, they may impound the car. When a car is impounded it means the government holds onto it for you. You can get it back, but you have to pay fees that can be very expensive. It is much better for you if it’s never impounded at all.
In small number of DUI cases, you could actually lose ownership of your car and it becomes government property. This is known as forfeiture. It is not common.
When is a Car Impounded in a Los Angeles DUI Case?
Whether a car is impounded depends mainly on two things:
- Your DUI record
- How nice the officer is
Of these, the officer’s attitude is often the biggest factor.
Your DUI record is something the officer could look at when they arrest you. If you’ve had a prior DUI within the last 10 years, they are supposed to impound your car. But this rule isn’t always enforced. Police may not take the time to look at your criminal record during the arrest, they may forget about the rule, or they may simply be feeling generous.
The officer’s attitude is an even bigger factor if it’s your first DUI. In this case, the law does not require them to impound your vehicle at all. But they have to do something with it, and impounding it is an option they can choose.
Officially, officers should impound a vehicle if it is not parked safely and legally when they arrest you. Since many arrests involve pulling you over on a busy roadway, “safely” is at an officer’s discretion.
If the officer wants to be nice, they might offer to drive the car a short distance and park it for you. This depends almost entirely on how respectful you have been. If you argue with the officer, they will probably be “unable” to spot any safe, legal parking place anywhere around.
An officer may also allow another driver to take the car for you. This is only common in DUI checkpoints, however. In a routine roadside stop the officer is not likely to wait around for a driver to come get your car.
What Happens to Your Car at a DUI Checkpoint
DUI checkpoints can arrest dozens of allegedly drunk drivers in one night. It’s hard for police to process all of their cars, and for a long time the policy in California was to tow and impound every single one of them. That has changed.
Generally, if you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint, police will temporarily park your car nearby. Someone can come pick it up, but only if they get there before the checkpoint ends. So if you were arrested at 1:00 a.m. and the checkpoint ends at 3:00, you have only two hours to get it picked up. After that it will be impounded.
The person who picks up the car usually has to be the registered owner of the vehicle. If you are the registered owner, police may allow you to designate someone who will come get it. But since they have so many cars to deal with at a checkpoint, this is unlikely.
What If I Was Involved in an Accident?
If your DUI involves an accident, the rules change. It depends largely on the condition of your vehicle and the severity of the accident. If your vehicle can still be safely driven, and no one was seriously hurt, then once again it depends on how nice the officer is and whether there is somewhere nearby to park it. But if the accident was serious, it may be considered a crime scene. Police will want the vehicle for evidence. It will almost certainly be towed and impounded.
If your vehicle is so badly damaged that it cannot be driven, the police officers’ highest priority is clearing the roadway. They will have your car towed and impounded.
Impounded as Evidence
Police can order any vehicle impounded if they need it for evidence, or if they believe it contains evidence. This usually only happens when a DUI involves drugs, or if someone was killed.
Impounded by the Court
Finally, the court can order that your car be impounded as part of a DUI sentence:
- For a first time DUI it may be impounded up to 30 days or not at all
- For a second DUI it will be impounded up to 30 days
- In a third or subsequent DUI, it can be impounded up to 90 days.
Can You Forfeit Your Car for a Los Angeles DUI Conviction?
In some cases you could lose ownership of your car entirely. This is called asset forfeiture and it’s not common for DUI. It happens when the asset in question (your car) was used to commit a crime. In DUI cases it’s mainly used if:
- Your DUI involves illegal drugs, particularly if the police found some of the drugs in the car when they searched it
- Your car killed someone in an accident related to your DUI
But your car can also be forfeited if you have too many prior DUI’s. If you have three DUI’s in a single seven-year period, the court can declare your vehicle a “nuisance” and take it.
What to Do If Your Car is Impounded in a California DUI Case
If your car is impounded you need to act fast. You will owe a fee for every day the car is impounded. This is on top of a general impound fee charged to every vehicle. The longer you wait to reclaim your car, the more it will cost you.
To get your car back you will need the following things:
- Proof of registration (if you are the registered owner)
- Proof of insurance
- Your temporary driver’s license
- A way to pay all of the impound fees
The car will not be released to you if you don’t pay the fees, and it will not be released to anyone but the registered owner.
What If It’s Not My Car?
If the car you were driving was not yours, the registered owner has to go get it. The good news is the registered owner can get their car right away—they don’t have to wait for a court-ordered impound period to pass. The bad news is, they will still have to pay the impound fees.
Remember, once your car is towed it can be impounded just for a day or two, or for up to 30 days or even 90 days. To keep the impound period as short as possible you should speak to a Los Angeles DUI attorney. We can get you a free consultation from a top DUI attorney today. Fill out the form to the right and get your FREE consultation now.