This Help Topic covers the seizure of vehicles for impaired driving and felony speeding to elude arrest. It does not address other vehicle seizures, such as the seizure of a vehicle involved in prearranged street racing, or the seizure of a vehicle used to transport drugs.
When can law enforcement seize a vehicle?
Law enforcement must seize a motor vehicle if any of the following is true:
- The driver is charged with an impaired driving offense and his or her driver’s license is revoked due to a prior impaired driving offense.
- The driver is charged with an impaired driving offense and he or she is not validly licensed and not covered by an automobile insurance policy.
- The driver is charged with felony speeding to elude arrest.
The law enforcement officer must seize the vehicle under these circumstances, even if the driver is not the owner of the vehicle.
Where is the vehicle stored after it is towed?
The vehicle will first be towed to a local storage facility. To find out where the vehicle is initially towed and stored, contact the law enforcement agency that arrested the driver, such as the State Highway Patrol, a local police department, or a county sheriff.
At some point, usually within a few days, the vehicle will be towed to the facilities of a state contractor. Eastway Wrecker, based in Charlotte, serves the western part of the state and can be reached at (877) DWI-TOWS, or (877) 394-8697. Martin Edwards & Associates, based in Linden, serves the eastern part of the state and can be reached at (910) 897-6382.
How can I get personal items out of the vehicle?
Contact the company that is storing the vehicle. You can retrieve your personal property if you can show proof to the company that you own the vehicle or the items. You cannot remove property that is attached to the vehicle.
What happens to seized vehicles?
Prior to the defendant’s trial, it is possible that an owner or lienholder may be able to obtain the release of the vehicle. These release options are discussed later in this Help Topic. It also is possible that the vehicle will be sold prior to trial if the accumulated towing and storage charges reach a certain level. This is referred to as an “expedited sale," and also is discussed below. After the defendant’s trial, if the vehicle still is subject to the seizure law, a judge will release it to an owner or lienholder, or turn it over (“forfeit” it) to the local school board.
When can a vehicle be sold before the driver’s trial?
As noted above, the state contractors can sell a seized vehicle in an “expedited sale” before the driver’s trial if the towing and storage costs reach a certain level. Any net proceeds of the sale will be sent to the clerk of court’s office. The proceeds will take the place of the vehicle in the seizure process, and will be subject to further orders of the court, just as the vehicle would have been.
I am the owner and the driver who was charged in the case. How can I get a vehicle seized in an impaired driving case back?
If you own the vehicle and you were the person charged with impaired driving in the case, you can get the vehicle back only if one the following circumstances applies:
- You are not convicted of the impaired driving charge the led to the seizure (for example, the charge is dismissed or you are found not guilty).
- At the time of the impaired driving offense that led to the seizure, your license was not revoked due to a prior impaired driving offense, and you have vehicle liability insurance. If you believe you fall into this category, you can file this petition with the clerk of superior court’s office in the county where you were charged. You do not have to wait for your impaired driving case to be resolved before filing the petition. A prosecutor may consent to have the vehicle released to you. If not, you can ask the clerk of court to schedule a hearing. At the hearing, a judge will determine whether you are entitled to the release of the vehicle.
I am the owner and the driver who was charged in the case. How can I get a vehicle seized for felony speeding to elude arrest back?
You can ask the court to release the vehicle to you on a temporary basis using this form. The Clerk of Court must order the release of the vehicle to you before trial if 24 hours have passed since the seizure and if all other legal conditions are met, including posting with the court a bond equal to the fair market value of the vehicle, to ensure that the vehicle is returned in the same condition in which you received it if you are found guilty. The vehicle can be permanently released to you only if you are not convicted of felony speeding to elude arrest.
I am the owner, but not the driver who was charged in the case. Can I get the vehicle back?
If you own the vehicle and you were not the driver who was charged in the case, you can get the vehicle back if the driver is found not guilty of the charge that led to the seizure, or if you can prove that you are an “innocent” owner. You are considered an “innocent” owner by law if any one of the following circumstances applies to you:
- If the vehicle was seized in an impaired driving case, you did not know and had no reason to know that the driver’s license was revoked, or you did not know and had no reason to know that the driver lacked a valid license and liability insurance.
- The driver drove the vehicle without your permission, and you have filed a police report for unauthorized use of the vehicle and agreed to prosecute the driver.
- Someone stole the vehicle from you, and you reported the theft of the vehicle.
- You are in the business of renting vehicles, and the driver was not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement.
- You are in the business of renting vehicles, and you did not know of the revocation of the driver’s license at the time the rental agreement was entered (for impaired driving seizures), or your rental agreement prohibits using the vehicle while committing a felony (for felony speeding to elude arrest seizures).
- You are in the business of leasing vehicles, you held legal title to the vehicle as a lessor at the time of seizure, and you had no actual knowledge of the revocation of the defendant’s driver’s license at the time you entered into the lease (for impaired driving seizures).
- You are in the business of leasing vehicles, and you held legal title to the vehicle as the lessor when the vehicle was seized (for felony speeding to elude arrest seizures).
What does an innocent owner need to do to get the vehicle back?
For an impaired driving seizure, you can file this petition in the county where the driver was charged. For a felony speeding to elude seizure, you can file this petition in the county where the driver was charged. If you are filing the petition before the defendant’s trial, the clerk of court will review your petition and issue a ruling. If you are filing the petition after the defendant’s trial and conviction, a judge will review and rule on your petition.
I am owner, but not the driver who was charged in the case. Can I get the vehicle back without proving I am an innocent owner?
Yes, the clerk of court may allow the temporary release of the vehicle before trial to an owner who was not the driver. In order for the clerk to release the vehicle to you temporarily, you are required to post a bond for the fair market value of the vehicle to ensure that you will return the vehicle in the same condition in which you received it if the court later decides that you are not entitled to the permanent release of the vehicle. There also are other conditions that apply to a temporary bond release, including that the vehicle must have been seized for at least 24 hours before the clerk issues the release order.
I am a lienholder on the vehicle. How can I get it back?
If you are a lienholder (in other words, a person who has loaned money with the vehicle serving as collateral for the loan), the vehicle may be released to you under certain circumstances. All of the following must apply:
- You held a perfected security interest in the vehicle at the time of the seizure,
- The obligor (in other words, the person owing on the loan) is in default,
- As a result of the default, you are entitled to possession of the vehicle,
- You agree to sell the vehicle and pay into the clerk’s office any proceeds beyond the amount due to you,
- You agree not to sell or transfer the vehicle to the person who was charged in the case or the owner of the vehicle, and
- The vehicle has not previously been released to you as the result of a prior seizure involving the same defendant or the same owner.
You can file this petition for the release of the vehicle in impaired driving cases, and this petition in felony speeding to elude arrest cases. If the owner, the District Attorney’s office, and the school board attorney consent to your petition by signing the waiver of rights section on the form, the clerk will release the vehicle to you without a hearing. If these parties do not consent, there will be a hearing before a judge, and you will need to prove all of the circumstances listed above.
What if the court doesn’t release the vehicle to anyone before the defendant’s trial?
If the defendant is not convicted of the charge the led to the seizure, and the vehicle has not already been sold in an “expedited sale” or released, the court will permanently release the vehicle to the owner. If the defendant is convicted of the charge that led to the seizure, the court will hold a “forfeiture hearing” on the status of the vehicle. An owner or lienholder may request the release of the vehicle at this hearing. The judge will decide whether to release the vehicle to one of these parties, or turn it over (“forfeit” it) to the school board.
What if the defendant is found not guilty or the charge is dismissed?
If the vehicle has not yet been sold or released, and the defendant is found not guilty of the charge that led to the seizure or the charge is dismissed, the judge will order the vehicle released to the owner. The form for this in an impaired driving case is available here. The form for this in a felony speeding to elude arrest case is available here.
Can I appeal the court’s decision forfeiting the vehicle to the school board?
If the driver is convicted in District Court and appeals the conviction to Superior Court, the Superior Court can consider the forfeiture issue anew. Otherwise, the forfeiture decision can be appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reviews cases for error based on the written record.
What if the vehicle was damaged during the offense?
The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles will instruct the insurance company to pay the insurance proceeds to the clerk’s office rather than to the policy holder. The proceeds later will be released or forfeited according to the same rules as the seized vehicle. There is a special procedure for vehicles that the insurance company has declared a total loss.
If the vehicle is released to me, how do I get it back?
You can contact the company that is storing the vehicle to arrange a date and time to pick it up, and find out what to bring with you. You should plan to bring a photo ID, a certified copy of the release order, and payment for the towing and storage costs.
If the vehicle is released to me, am I required to pay the towing and storage costs?
Yes. You must pay all towing and storage costs to the company holding the vehicle before the company will release the vehicle to you. There are no exceptions to this requirement. If you were not the driver and the driver is convicted, the court may order the driver to repay you for these costs.