Driving under the influence in California has immediate and long-term consequences. After a DUI arrest, the police officer seizes your driver’s license. In addition, depending on the circumstances of your arrest, the police officer may impound your vehicle after a DUI arrest.
After your car is impounded, understanding your legal rights can help you get your car back quickly. However, be prepared to pay an impound fee and possibly install an ignition interlock device (IID) if you want to continue driving on a restricted driver’s license.
When Do Police Officers Impound Vehicles After a DUI Arrest?
If a police officer arrests you for drunk driving, the question arises of what to do with your vehicle. Leaving a vehicle on the side of the road is rarely an option. California Vehicle Code §22651 gives police officers authority to remove vehicles if they take you into custody.
Generally, police officers are required to have vehicles towed to the police impound lot when:
- Your vehicle is evidence or part of a crime scene (i.e., a DUI accident involving injuries or fatalities)
- The vehicle’s condition does not permit someone to drive it safely
- There are no nearby locations to park and leave your car legally and safely
- You have prior DUI convictions on your driving record during the past ten years
However, a police officer may not automatically impound your car if you have a prior DUI. The officer might not take the time to review your driving history during a DUI traffic stop. Instead, the officer might focus solely on the current drunk driving offense.
If the law does not require a police officer to impound your vehicle, your attitude during the DUI stop can significantly impact the officer’s decisions regarding vehicle impoundment.
The police officer may allow a sober passenger to drive the vehicle. Officers might pull your vehicle to a safe location at a DUI checkpoint. However, someone must pick up your vehicle before the end of the DUI checkpoint. Generally, only the registered owner can pick up a car at a DUI checkpoint. However, the officer might allow you to designate someone to pick up your vehicle if you are the registered owner.
An officer could offer to drive your vehicle a short distance to a parking lot or other safe location. However, if you are belligerent, disrespectful, and uncooperative, the officer is unlikely to “see” a safe parking location nearby the traffic stop.
Can the Court Impound My Car After a DUI Arrest in California?
Yes, the court may impound your vehicle as part of the DUI penalties. For a first-time DUI conviction, the judge may order your car to remain in the impound lot for up to 30 days or not at all. A second DUI results in impoundment for up to 30 days. After three or more DUIs, the court can impound your vehicle for 90 days.
Having your vehicle impounded after a DUI in California is expensive. Whenever possible, try to avoid impoundment by politely asking the police officer if there is a way to have your vehicle parked or someone pick it up to avoid the impound lot.
Another way to avoid a long impound period is to agree to install an ignition interlock device (IID). It may be expensive, but you might be able to continue driving if you qualify for a restricted driver’s license with IID installation.
While asset forfeiture is not common, it can happen as part of a DUI case. When your vehicle is used to commit a crime, the law states that you can lose ownership of your car (asset forfeiture). In a DUI case, forfeiting your car generally only occurs if:
- The court declares your vehicle a nuisance because you have numerous DUI convictions within seven years
- You were involved in a DUI accident that resulted in a traffic fatality
- Your drunk driving arrest involved illegal drugs, especially if the police officer seizure illegal drugs from your car when they searched it
Seeking legal advice from an experienced California DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest is in your best interest. A DUI attorney reviews your case and advises you of your legal options for fighting DUI charges and vehicle impoundments or forfeitures.
What Should I Do if My Car is Impounded After a DUI in California?
Acting fast can save you money after the police impound your car. You pay a fee for each day your car remains in the impound lot. The longer you wait to reclaim your vehicle from an impound lot, the higher the fees are to reclaim your vehicle.
To get your car back after a DUI impoundment, you need:
- Proof of vehicle registration showing you are the registered owner
- Proof of required liability insurance
- Your temporary driver’s license or Notice of Suspension
- Payment for all fees and costs charged for the impound, including fees for towing, daily storage, indoor storage, lien, and after-hours charges
You cannot retrieve your car until the police or the court release the vehicle from impound. The state only releases impounded vehicles to their registered owner. Therefore, if someone else was driving your vehicle, you do not need to wait to retrieve your car. However, you are responsible for paying the impound fees.
Some drivers may not be able to pay the fees to get their vehicles out of impound. Long impound periods could result in fees totaling more than a vehicle is worth. If you do not pick up your car from impound, your car may be sold at auction to pay the impound fees. Check with a California DUI attorney to determine the deadline for picking up your vehicle from impound after a DUI arrest.
What Happens to You After a DUI Arrest in California?
The police officers transport you to jail after a DUI arrest. California Vehicle Code §23152 makes it unlawful to:
- Drive a passenger vehicle with a BAC level of .08% or higher
- Operate a commercial motor vehicle or a vehicle with a passenger for hire in the car with a BAC of .04% or higher
- Operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol
- Drive a motor vehicle under the influence of any drug
- Operate a motor vehicle under the influence of a combination of any drug and alcohol
A police officer initiates a traffic stop if the officer has probable cause to believe a crime is being or has been committed. For example, the officer may pull you over if he witnesses driving behavior that indicates you might be impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. However, the officer may also pull you over for a traffic infraction.
If the police officer suspects you are impaired during the traffic stop, he may request that you take a pre-assessment screen test, such as a roadside breathalyzer or cheek swab. You can refuse field sobriety tests and roadside preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) tests without penalty.
However, California’s implied consent law requires you to take a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC) level after an arrest for drunk driving. Refusal to submit to chemical testing after a DUI arrest can result in additional jail time and a longer duration for DUI school.
Refusing a chemical BAC test after a DUI arrest results in an automatic license suspension. You cannot receive a restricted driver’s license at any time during the license suspension period for refusing a chemical test.
What Are the Penalties for a Drunk Driving Conviction in California?
The sentence for a DUI conviction depends on your prior DUI history and whether there are aggravating factors involved in your drunk driving case.
DUIs are priorable criminal offenses in California. Therefore, the severity of the penalties for each subsequent DUI conviction within ten years increases. A felony DUI conviction can be counted against you regardless of when you were convicted.
Aggravating factors can also increase the severity of DUI punishments. Aggravating factors that enhance a DUI sentence include, but might not be limited to:
- Having a high BAC level (generally .15% or higher) at the time of your arrest
- Being under 21 years old at the time of a DUI arrest
- Having a minor under 14 years of age in the car while driving under the influence
- Excessive speed (i.e., driving 20 miles per hour or more over the posted speed limit)
- Causing injuries or death while driving under the influence
- Refusal to submit to a chemical test
- Driving under the influence while on DUI probation
Assuming that this is your first DUI conviction and there were no aggravating factors to enhance the DUI sentence, the judge could punish you with:
- Six-month loss of driving privileges
- Fines and assessments of up to $2,000
- Up to six months in county jail
- Attending DUI school for three to nine months
- Summary (informal) probation for three to five years
The court may also require you to install an ignition interlock device (IID) for up to six months.
You can fight DUI charges with the help of a California DUI lawyer. Violations of your civil rights, lack of probable cause, challenges to BAC tests, and violations of Title 17 are just a few DUI defenses that could beat DUI charges.
The first step is to seek legal advice from a trusted, experienced DUI defense attorney in California.