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Zoey_ JD
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 26833
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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My wifes car was impounded while i was driving it. I was arreste

Customer Question

My wife's car was impounded while i was driving it. I was arrested and taken to jail where i later bonded out. We have called the proper authority about getting my personal property from the vehicle and was told i would be called back in regards XXXXX XXXXX but never was. She has called the county who has the car in there impound but they say another jurisdiction has the hold on it not them. We owe about $13,000 on the car and can't even cancel the insurance without the tag is there a time frame that they have to keep the car in impound and do i have to still pay for the car if they never give the car back? Also do we have to pay a daily fee even though we could have picked the car up the next day? Thanks
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 6 years ago.

There are many reasons that a police can impound a vehicle, and how quickly and/or easily you can get it back is going to depend on why it's being held .

First of all, the state can impound a vehicle when it was used in a crime or if they think it's the fruit of a crime (a stolen car) or the instrumentality of a crime (a DUI case). Other times, they can be holding the car for the DA as evidence on a case. They can also hold it and obtain a warrant to search the vehicle for contraband or to investigate the present case or some other unrelated matter. Finally, if it was used in the commission of an illegal act, they can mark it for civil forfeiture.

If they do the last, you will, as the owner of the vehicle, receive notice that if you don't want the state to keep and sell your car, you will have to have a hearing. This is a civil procedure which would have nothing to do with any case against you. Your participation in such a hearing would be up to you. You can do nothing, in which case the county would auction off your car and keep the money. Or you could hire a civil attorney and have him attend the hearing and try to get your car back. (And yes, you do still owe your car payments).

So the first thing you will have to do is to find out what the car is being held for and when the police plan on letting it go. Maybe they just want to investigate for a bit, and then you'll pay impound fees and take it home. On the other hand, if they are holding it as evidence of a crime, they can hold it until the disposition of your case (and beyond, if you are convicted).

One sad but true fact here is that impounding vehicles brings in a lot of money to counties. So fees are mounting up and the authorities just don't want to rush to give you the information you want to know. As you have a lawyer,however, and as the car appears to be registered to your wife rather than to you (you say it's her car), have your lawyer contact the DA. The DA can agree to the release of any personal property that is not going to be used as evidence against you. The DA can also agree to release the car with proof that it was not yours but an innocent owner's and if they don't need it for evidence on your case. That they can agree, however, doesn't mean that they will, but they frequently do. And if they do, the police can still refuse to comply with the DA's order and make you have to hire a civil attorney and make you sue the county to get it back.

Good luck!

Edited by FranL on 11/3/2010 at 1:29 AM EST
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
I am not totally understanding your statement that they could sell the car and we would still have to make the payments. The bank is not going to give them the title without it being paid off are they? The authorities have already searched the car, it was not stolen and there was not a DUI. When asked they said they would contact their lawyer as to how long they can hold it and when they can release the personal property. We have not heard anything from them in a week.
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 6 years ago.

Sorry for any unintended confusion. If the police were only holding your car for the purposes of an inventory search and an investigation, they are not entitled to keep it forever. They can seize it as contraband if it was the fruit or the instrumentality of a crime, however. That's an entirely different story. The illustrations I used, a stolen car or a dui were illustrative only of what I meant by fruit and instrumentality and not meant to an exclusive list. If you were dealing or transporting drugs in your car, for example, or soliciting prostitutes you car could be similarly impounded and in the former case, the county would likely fight real hard not to give it back.

I can't tell you what the police are doing with your car. I can only tell you the various reasons that they can hang onto it. While you own it, you are expected to pay for it and a car can be subject to civil forfeiture even if it has a lien on it (though as your wife has not yet received a notice of forfeiture, that doesn't appear to be an issue at this time.

So get your lawyer to contact the DA about this, because as a defendant, the last people in the world you should be talking to right now is the police anyhow. And the DA has the authority to order the police to release the car. The longer you take to get a lawyer on it, the more impound fees will be accruing.

Edited by FranL on 11/3/2010 at 2:25 AM EST
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Relist: Answer quality.
I felt the answer was vague. Also, Florida law is not the same as New York law
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 6 years ago.

I'm sorry that you thought my answer was vague. As you haven't provided any information at all as to the case underlying the impounding of your wife's vehicle, the most I could provide was a general overview of the various reasons for impound.

If your car and its contents are not evidence and it's not the fruit or the instrumentality of a crime, then once they've completed their inventory they shoold return it. If it is evidence they will most likely return it if the case is decided in your favor. If it's slated for civil forfeiture, the owner of the vehicle will receive notice in the mail. If the latter, and your wife has an innocent owner defense, she ought to be able to prevail after a hearing and get it back.

All of the above is true in Florida. So is the fact that if you can't get satisfaction from the police, your remedy is to involve your lawyer.

Edited by FranL on 11/3/2010 at 11:32 PM EST