You could face harsh consequences, such as a jail sentence, a hefty fine, and driver’s license suspension if you are convicted of DWI in Charlotte. You would also have a permanent criminal record that could affect your ability to obtain employment, housing, education, and more. In addition, you could lose your vehicle—sometimes permanently.

When Can the Police Seize a Vehicle If You’re Arrested for DWI in North Carolina?

Under N.C.G.S. 20-28.3, the police may have the authority to seize your vehicle when they arrest you for DWI. They are required to seize vehicles in these situations:

  • Your driver’s license was revoked due to another DWI offense.
  • You were driving when you did not have a valid driver’s license or did not have automobile insurance required under North Carolina law.

Your vehicle would be seized even if someone else was driving it and was arrested for DWI—whether or not you were in the vehicle with them.

Who Pays the Towing and Storage Fees for Your Vehicle?

Tow Truck Getting Ready to Load a CarIf law enforcement officials seize your vehicle, they would have it towed to a local towing storage facility. After several days, it could be transferred to a state-wide storage facility.

You would have to pay the towing and storage fees before the towing company would release it to you. Storage costs are assessed for each day your vehicle is in storage, and the cost could quickly add up. You would have to pay these fees, even if it is determined that the police were not justified in seizing your car.

Can Your Vehicle Be Sold Without a Court Order?

Unless you are able to get your vehicle returned to you, it would be forfeited to the local school board. They would have the authority to sell it and keep the proceeds. They would be able to sell it without a court order if one of the following is true:

  • You consented to the sale.
  • The towing and storage fees exceed 85% of your motor vehicle’s value.
  • Your auto was in storage for more than 90 days and was worth less than $1,500.

How Can You Get Your Vehicle Back?

You have the right to file a petition to seek the return of your automobile before the resolution of your DWI criminal case, which could take months or longer to resolve. You would need to show that your driver’s license was not revoked and that you have the required insurance.

Once the court clerk receives your petition, they would schedule a hearing within 10 days or as soon as it is feasible. In addition, under N.C.G.S. 20-28.3(m), trials involving forfeited vehicles must be expedited and must be decided on the arresting officer’s next court date or within 30 days of your offense, whichever comes sooner. The notice of hearing would need to be served on the prosecuting attorney, the attorney for the local school board, and yourself.

If the prosecutor determines that the forfeiture of your vehicle was unjustified, they could agree to its return to you and forward their consent to the court clerk. The clerk could then issue an order returning your car to you upon your payment of the storage and towing fees. If they did not agree to your petition, the court would decide whether the forfeiture is justified at your hearing.

What Happens If Someone Else Was Driving Your Car When it Was Seized?

If someone else was driving your motor vehicle and it was seized at the time of their DWI arrest, you may be able to file an Innocent Owner Petition. You would need to show one of the following in order to have a right to have your auto returned to you:

  • You did not know and had no reason to know that the driver had a revoked license or that they did not have a valid license and required auto insurance.
  • If you knew that the driver had a revoked license or did not have insurance, you did not authorize them to drive your motor vehicle and filed a police report for their unauthorized use of it.
  • The driver stole your vehicle, and you reported the theft to the police.
  • Your business involves vehicle rentals, and the driver was not authorized under the agreement to drive the auto, or you did not know that their driver’s license was revoked.
  • Your company leases vehicles, and you were unaware that the person’s driver’s license was revoked at the time you entered into the lease agreement with them.

What Happens to Your Personal Property?

You have a right to the return of your personal property even if the vehicle forfeiture was valid. You would need to prove that you are the vehicle owner in order for your personal property to be returned to you.

Have You Been Arrested for a DWI in Charlotte, NC?

If you are facing DWI charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.


Howard W. Long, II
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Charlotte Criminal Defense and DWI Lawyer