What happens when your vehicle is seized because of a DWI in Wake County?

Recently, we have received an influx in calls from potential clients relating to Driving While Impaired offenses with a prior DWI conviction already on their record. More specifically, however, their main concern was getting their vehicle back after it has been seized by law enforcement. It’s important for the public’s concern and for any criminal defense attorney to understand that every DWI case, where the defendant’s vehicle was seized, revolves around two main issues: either the defendant’s driver’s license was already revoked for a prior impaired driving offense, or the driver is not validly licensed and not covered by an automobile liability insurance policy.


But then again you may ask, well what if I am the owner of the vehicle but I wasn’t driving the vehicle at the time? The law enforcement officer must seize the vehicle regardless if the driver was not the owner of the vehicle. If you are the owner of the vehicle, you can get your vehicle back by proving at least one of these elements:


  1. You did not know that your driver’s license was revoked or was without liability insurance and had no reason to know.
  2. You did know that the driver was without a license or liability insurance but you can prove that they drove the vehicle without your permission by showing a police report and agreeing to prosecute the driver.
  3. You reported the theft of the vehicle.
  4. You are in the business of renting vehicles and either the driver was not listed as an authorized driver on the rental contract or the driver was listed as an authorized driver but you had no knowledge of the revocation of the driver’s license at the time the contract was entered.


The list above features some of the more common elements that can be used for an innocent plea; this list does not embody every defense. You will still need to fill out a AOC-CR-330A form, which can be obtained from the Wake County Clerk’s office. You should contact your Wake County DWI defense lawyer to learn more about possible defenses and which forms you need to submit.


On the other hand, if you are the owner of the vehicle and the driver, the procedure to recover your vehicle is different. Upon seizure, there are two scenarios:

  1. the vehicle first will be towed to a local storage facility where it will be held until the disposition of the case, or
  2. the storage fees and the towing costs overtake the value of the vehicle and the vehicle would then need to be sold.

Similar to what we touched on before, you will be required to prove your innocence if you can demonstrate that, at the time of the seizure, your license was not revoked for a prior impaired driving offense. At this point, you will either be denied release or release may be granted, and you can obtain your vehicle after paying the fees and costs. Before the vehicle can be released, the defendant is required to pay the towing and storage costs, in which case your defense attorney should advise you to work diligently to recover your vehicle to save money.


You still need to file a AOC-CR-33A form, which is available at the Wake County Clerk’s office. You do not have the right to appeal immediately from decision denying your pretrial release petition, however. You must wait until the court has acted on the impaired driving offense.


So finally, if your attorney is successful in getting your DWI dismissed, the court will permanently release the vehicle to the owner. However, if you are found guilty the court will hold a “forfeiture hearing” on the status of the vehicle. At this point the owners can also request a release of the vehicle again.   If you vehicle was already sold, the contractors will pay the net proceeds of the sale to the clerk’s office and any remainder is released to the owner or forfeited to the school board.


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