If Your Car Was Impounded After A DUI…

Car towed for police impound

If your car was impounded by the police, you're probably trying to figure out how to get your car out of impound as soon as possible. One of the many inconvenient things about being charged with driving under the influence in Arizona is that police can impound your car. In other words, they can have your car towed from the scene and stored on an impound lot. This doesn't always happen when you're charged with DUI in Arizona. Sometimes the decision to impound a vehicle is discretionary, and impound policies vary among law enforcement agencies even within the Tucson area, but the police are required to impound a vehicle under certain circumstances.

Why Your Car Was Impounded In The First Place.

If you are pulled over and charged with DUI, the police obviously can let you drive home. They have to do something with your car. If you're next to a commercial parking lot, there's a good chance that they just decide to leave the car there. But if you're in an area where there is no safe place to leave your car, like the freeway, there's a good chance the police will decide to have your car impounded. If you can call someone to pick it up right away, it doesn't hurt to ask. It may be more convenient for the police than having to call the towing company.

On the other hand, police will sometimes decide to impound a car even when it's not required because they know it will allow them to conduct an "inventory search." They really shouldn't impound a car for this reason. But if they think there might be contraband in the car and are unable to otherwise justify a search, they may resort to impounding the car. There are also certain circumstances where the police are required to impound your car.

When Are the Police Required to Impound Your Car?

If the police have probable cause to believe that you've committed an extreme DUI (0.15 BAC or higher), an Aggravated DUI (a felony), or a Baby DUI (minor driving with any amount of alcohol in their system), they are required to impound your car for 30 days. It is important to note that even a preliminary breath test (PBT) result can be enough for some police departments to impound the car. This is a small handheld device that is often used even when the police end up taking a blood sample.

Impoundment is another reason why it's generally not advisable to agree to take a PBT, which has little evidentiary value and is not a test that you're required to do by law. Some police departments, like the Oro Valley Police Department and the Marana Police Department, seem to base impounds on PBT results. Others, like the Pima County Sheriff's Department, usually don't. The real breath test in Arizona is typically done with a much larger machine called the Intoxilyzer 8000. It should be noted that if you refuse to take this test, your license will be suspended for a full year.

Even if police don't suspect you of DUI, they must impound your car if your driver's license is suspended or revoked, if you've never had a valid license, if you're driving in violation of an interlock requirement, or if you get into an accident and have no insurance.

Can You Challenge An Impound Decision?

You are entitled to a hearing to contest the decision to impound your car, but this hearing is before the law enforcement agency that decided to impound your car in the first place. In my experience, these hearings usually amount to a very brief phone conversation with a higher ranking officer. There is technically a way to appeal the agency's decision, but the justice system moves slowly and you'd be lucky to get a decision from a real judge before the 30 day impound is over. If the car is owned by someone else and not the person charged with DUI, the owner may be able to get the car released before the impound period is over.

If Your Car Was Impounded, How Do You Get It Back?

If your car was impounded after a DUI arrest, the police are supposed to give you a Notice of Impoundment. This document will tell you where your vehicle is being held and provide contact information for the towing company holding it. To retrieve the car after impoundment, you need to get the police department to provide you with vehicle release documents that you can take to the towing company. You'll have to pay all the impound fees and administrative fees before your car will be released. If you don't get the vehicle out of impound within the 10 days following the 30 day impound period, the towing company could legally attempt to take possession of your car!

* This blog is published by Tucson DUI and criminal defense lawyer Nathan D. Leonardo. Nothing on this website is intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice, but is for general information purposes only. If you have a legal question, you can contact us online or call (520) 314-4125.

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