DWI and Vehicle Impoundment

When you're dealing with the fallout from a DWI arrest, worries can begin to swirl around in your head almost immediately. You wonder: what will happen after my arrest? Will I lose my license? How much will all of this cost? Then there are the long term concerns like will this affect my job search? Will I be able to apply for a security clearance or professional license? And what happens if I have to look for a new place to live?

With all of these thoughts taking up space in your mind, it's easy to forget about one practical problem—what happens to your car.

At Doug Murphy Law, P.C., we want our clients to have answers to all of their questions, even the practical ones. As one of Houston's premiere DWI law firms, Doug Murphy Law, P.C. is committed to putting our clients' minds at ease. Doug Murphy is a zealous advocate and understands that advocacy begins with clarity. So Doug makes sure all of his clients thoroughly understand their case and all of the logistics in between.

If you have questions about your DWI matter, contact Doug Murphy Law, P.C. today, so that we can begin reviewing your case. In the interim, we want to arm you with knowledge for the battle ahead. So here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about what happens to your car after a DWI arrest.

Will The Police Impound My Car If They Arrest Me for DWI?

In Texas, Police officers at the scene of a DWI arrest have a few options for handling your vehicle. They can:

• Let a non-intoxicated, properly licensed passenger take control of the car;

• Wait at the scene of the arrest until a friend or family member comes to pick up the vehicle; or

• Arrange to have your vehicle towed and impounded.

Texas law grants police officers the right to use their judgment and reasonable discretion when deciding among these options. This right means that officers are under no obligation to wait for your family member to arrive on the scene. Officers can immediately choose to tow and impound your vehicle if they choose to do so. Many police department have departmental order that dictate what they are required to do. Perhaps the police violated those orders when they had your car towed and refused to allow a legally eligible person to drive your vehicle away from the scene after a DWI or other arrest.

The discretion the law grants police when it comes to impoundment can certainly feel like the law is heavily weighted on their side. However, it is important to remember that any exercise of the officers' discretion must be reasonable. If it was feasible for the officers to choose another option and they towed your car anyway, it calls their credibility into question and that is something that your attorney can use to strengthen your defense against the charges.

Are there times when officers are required, by law, to tow and impound your car?

Yes. Regardless of whether your family member is immediately available to take control of your vehicle, the law requires that the police impound your car if:

• Your DWI incident resulted in injury or death to another person,

• The police charged you with certain felonies related to your DWI arrest,

• The state deems your DWI charge a felony offense on its own,

• The police consider your car a safety hazard, or

• The officers find your vehicle damaged beyond drivability.

How do I find my car after my arrest?

It is not a guarantee that the police will tell you (or know) where the tow operator towed your car after your arrest. So one tool you can use to locate your vehicle is FindMyTowedCar.com, or you can also call the tow line at 713-308-8580. The Houston police department released this online tool in 2011.  It tracks the receipt and release of impounded vehicles at storage lots electronically. To use the tool, you'll need to enter your license plate, vehicle identification number (VIN), and other information about your car. Additionally, it can take up to 2 hours for your vehicle to be listed on the site when towed.  Another website that could also be of help is https://www.cartowed.com/category/find-car-towed/houston/.

How soon can you get your car back?

If the state does not consider your car to be evidence in the DWI case, you can get your vehicle back as soon as you are released from custody and pay the associated fees. If your matter involves injury or death to another person or felony charges, then the state might consider your car to be evidence.  If that happens, the state can hold your vehicle until your case is over.  That could be months or years, depending on the circumstances.  If the court ultimately dismisses your case, it can take up to 90 days for the police to process that dismissal and return your car.

How much does it cost to get your car out of the impound lot?

If the police tow and impound your car, you are responsible for paying all fees, storage, and administrative costs necessary to get your vehicle back. Generally, the cost of towing your vehicle from the scene to the impound lot can cost you between $250 and $500. And the impound lot also will charge you up to $20 per day in storage fees.

Can the police search your car before they impound it?

If the police lawfully arrested you for a DWI, they can search your car based on the search incident to arrest rule. The search incident to arrest rule states that the police have a right to protect themselves after an arrest by searching for weapons. They also have a right to protect the case by searching for any evidence that an arrestee might try to destroy on the scene.

It is important to note here that the search incident to arrest rule only applies to a lawful arrest. If the police did not lawfully arrest you, then any subsequent search of you or your vehicle is illegal. Additionally, this rule does not give the police the right to search anything you own or anywhere you live without a warrant. The law limits the officers' search to property within your control at the time of your arrest.

So if your arrest occurred in your car, the police can search your car, but that search cannot extend to your home or residence without a warrant. Similarly, if the police arrested you blocks away from your car, the state would have to show that it was within your control to justify searching it.

Sometimes officers try to get around the limits on the search incident to arrest rule by saying that they searched your car only to take an inventory of your property. But we all know their real motive. So how police officers classify their search can potentially be a legal basis for suppression of any evidence they discover in your car.

If I have to wait to get my car back because of a police investigation, what are some alternative transportation options?

Houston is a car-friendly city. However, there are alternative transportation options that you can use. The Houston Metro System has buses and light rails that connect many areas of the city, but not all of them. You can visit the website for the Houston public metro system here for coverage information.

If public transportation does work for you, car-sharing apps like ZipCar and Turo give you access to cars that you can drive for a monthly fee. There are also ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, where a driver will take you where you need to go for a fee.

What happens if I am convicted of a DWI, but I cannot pay my fines and penalties? Will my car be towed and impounded again?

If you have been convicted of a DWI offense, your sentence can include fines, license suspension, jail time, and administrative penalties in the form of DMV and insurance surcharges. If you have fallen behind on the payment of your fines and penalties, and that is the only outstanding issue in your case, the court or the DMV may suspend your license, but they usually won't tow and impound your car.

Moreover, in terms of surcharges, there is excellent news. The Texas state legislature recently repealed the DMV surcharge program. So as of September 1, 2019, all DMV surcharges have been lifted, and you no longer have to pay the surcharge penalties assessed to you. If the DMV is still charging you those penalties, contact our firm today so we can get things sorted out for you.

DWI matters are complicated even when it comes to finding your car after your arrest. So If you want help with your case, contact Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today for a free consultation. Doug Murphy is a board-certified criminal defense and DWI Defense lawyer. He has the training and experience you need to effectively review the circumstances of your case and protect your rights.

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If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.