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DWI Impound: Getting Your Vehicle Back

Vehicle impounds are one of those unexpected things for which those arrested for a DWI just don't generally have a plan. The DWI arrest is bad enough. The DWI arrest is frightening, embarrassing, stressful, and consequential. The DWI defendant has all kinds of questions about what's next. Those questions include major things like the possibility of jail time and fines and the impact on one's job and family, including child custody and the loss, suspension, or restriction of driving privileges. A DWI arrest can immediately threaten a professional license and one's immigration status. But then, on top of all those deep concerns over direct and collateral consequences of a DWI arrest, DWI defendants often face vehicle impoundment. To the DWI defendant, a vehicle impound can seem like adding insult to injury. And when an impound occurs, the question immediately arises of how to get one's vehicle back.

Avoid Impoundment if You Can

Vehicle impound may be likely, but it is not necessarily a sure thing. The best and quickest way to get your vehicle back is to avoid an impound in the first place. And in many DWI arrests, you can. You generally don't want your vehicle impounded. Impound means that police will search your vehicle, ostensibly for safety but in fact for crime evidence. You certainly don't want a vehicle impounded if you have drugs, weapons, or anything else in the vehicle you'd rather the police not discover. Know what to do after your DWI arrest. If your vehicle is undamaged and drivable, and if your vehicle is not evidence relating to a crime, then the officer has the discretion to let you make other arrangements than impoundment. Avoiding impoundment altogether is the best way to get your vehicle back.

  • A licensed and sober passenger in your vehicle may be your first and best choice. Ask the officer if your vehicle passenger can drive your vehicle to a safe place like your home.
  • If you don't have a passenger to drive, then ask the officer if you can contact a family member or friend to come drive the vehicle home. The officer may be willing to wait at the scene for someone you know and trust to come get your vehicle.
  • The officer may also let you park your vehicle in a safe place, on your assurance that you can make prompt arrangements to get it home.

Why You Should Recover Your Vehicle Quickly

If you can't make arrangements for vehicle release at the scene, then you'll face vehicle towing and impoundment. But you don't want to just ignore your vehicle's impoundment. You should get your vehicle out of impoundment as quickly as you can. Impound means a vehicle towing and storage company has secured your vehicle from the DWI arrest scene, often at substantial cost. Those costs include not only the hookup and tow charge to get your vehicle back to the tow facility but also the daily storage charges, which can quickly add up. Depending on the towing and storage rates, how long your vehicle remains in storage, and your vehicle's value, you could see an impound bill that exceeds your vehicle's value.

Impound also means you and your family members have lost the use of the vehicle. You may have received a temporary permit after your DWI arrest. If so, remember that you must generally request an ALR hearing within fifteen days. And if so, then you'd probably like your vehicle back to drive. But whether you have a temporary permit to drive or not, you may also want a family member or friend to use the vehicle. Between the storage costs and the vehicle's use, you have plenty of reasons to want your vehicle back quickly.

Vehicle Location

The first step to getting your vehicle back from the tow and storage facility is to locate your vehicle. If you are present at the scene when the tow company arrives for your vehicle, then you should be able to identify the tow company from the sign on its tow truck. You may even get a business card from the tow truck driver. The police, of course, should generally share with you your vehicle's location if you ask. But in the Houston area and many other areas, you can find your towed vehicle on your own at the website You'll need your vehicle license plate number and probably also your vehicle identification number (VIN). It may only take a couple of hours after your DWI arrest for your impounded vehicle to show up on the website.

Vehicle Release

The second step to getting your vehicle back is to ensure that you have the right to its release. The vehicle storage facility, also known as the impound yard, won't release your vehicle unless the police agency that requested its impoundment has authorized its release. You can't just show up at the impound yard, demanding vehicle release, if the police have an evidence hold on the vehicle. The police should tell you if your vehicle is free for you to recover. Even if the police do release your vehicle, call the impound yard to be sure that they know that you are free to retrieve your vehicle. You don't want to show up only to find that the yard is confused and refuses your vehicle's release. If the yard won't release the vehicle, and the police won't release your vehicle when you believe that they should, then retain Texas DWI attorney Doug Murphy to help. Remember: vehicle storage fees are adding up.

What to Take for Release

When you go to the impound yard to retrieve your vehicle, be sure to take your valid driver's license or valid temporary permit. The impoundment yard is likely to require you to show identification to retrieve your vehicle. The yard might be responsible for the theft of your vehicle if they did not. If you don't have a valid license or permit, then bring a vehicle driver who does. Do not drive your vehicle out of the impoundment yard if you lack the driving privileges to do so. Also, take your proof of vehicle insurance, which you or the police may have removed from your vehicle at your DWI arrest. Also, take your vehicle registration or title proving your vehicle ownership. Impound yards have different requirements but the same concerns for vehicle release. They need to be sure that you are the released vehicle's rightful owner and that your taking the vehicle is a lawful act.

Ignition Interlock as Condition of Release

You may face one other requirement to get your vehicle back from impoundment. For a second or subsequent DWI offense, Texas law generally requires that a DWI defendant who retains temporary or restricted driving privileges install an ignition interlock device (IID) on the vehicle. Ignition interlock devices detect alcohol on the driver's breath to prevent driving. Some courts, in some circumstances, will require the device even for a first DWI offense. If you have an interlock license, then the impoundment yard may not release your vehicle without the installation of the ignition interlock device in your vehicle. Ignition interlock devices require that you pay the installation fee, monthly fees for leasing and maintenance, and a removal fee at the end. Tampering with the device could result in revocation of your license and additional criminal charges.

Court Hearing to Get a Vehicle Back

The criminal court that is processing your DWI case has the authority to order various forms of relief relating to your case, including relief from vehicle impoundment. You may need a court motion and hearing for that relief. But some DWI arrests involve the defendant's operation of someone else's vehicle. And sometimes, the impoundment of that vehicle may be for no registration, expired tags or plates, no insurance, or other reasons unrelated to the DWI case. The court processing the DWI case may not in those circumstances have anything to do with the impounded vehicle's release.

Texas laws like Transportation Code §545.305 and §601.261 authorize vehicle impoundment but also authorize a court in the county in which the impound yard towed the vehicle to order vehicle release. Counties like Harris and Travis commonly enact local rules for, and publish website information about, vehicle impoundment and release. The police and an impound yard cannot simply hold your vehicle indefinitely for no reason. You have legal relief.

Vehicle Forfeiture Barring Release

In the worst DWI cases, Texas law authorizes vehicle forfeiture, meaning the owner cannot get the vehicle back. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 59 authorizes forfeiture of contraband, meaning personal property used in the commission of certain serious crimes. A third or subsequent DWI offense is one of those serious crimes for which forfeiture is available under Chapter 59. Because the DWI defendant's vehicle would have been used to commit the DWI crime, the vehicle is subject to forfeiture. The defendant on a third or subsequent DWI charge faces the prospect of losing the impounded vehicle not just temporarily but forever.

Some vehicles have low or only modest value. Other vehicles have substantial value. Some of the very nice vehicles you see law enforcement officers driving are forfeited vehicles. In 2019, a Texas Tribune article highlighted concerns over the large number and value of Texas forfeitures across the state and in Harris County. According to the story, those forfeitures included many vehicles, some, such as a Cadillac Escalade, of high value. You could lose your vehicle if you lose your DWI case, making its aggressive defense all the more important.

A DWI Defense Attorney's Role

If you face any obstacle to getting your vehicle back from impound, then retain a skilled and experienced Texas DWI attorney to help you. A DWI defense lawyer can help you fight unfair and unnecessary impoundment, especially if your vehicle's impoundment affects your innocent family. Even if you cannot drive your vehicle because of your license's suspension, your family members may need to drive your vehicle. Indeed, becauseof your license's suspension, your family members may need to drive your vehicle to shop for food, get medical care, attend school, maintain employment, or accomplish other daily tasks critical to your family's welfare.

Relief from vehicle impoundment may require court action, which is exactly why you should retain a DWI lawyer. Better to get a skilled attorney advocate on your side than to have vehicle storage fees rob you of your finances while your family suffers without transportation.

Contact Our Houston, Texas DWI Vehicle Impound Defense Attorney

The crippling costs that can follow a DWI arrest are not a sure thing. What costs you incur and losses you suffer depend very much on what happened leading up to your arrest, what happens after your arrest, and how you handle the DWI proceeding. The best way to minimize the costs of a DWI case and maximize your recovery is to retain a Texas DWI attorney. Your conviction is not a forgone conclusion. You don't have to plead guilty. A jury might not find you guilty, and your case may not even go to trial. A skilled and aggressive DWI lawyer has ways to defend your DWI charge. To minimize your costs, beat the DWI charge. And the biggest step in beating a DWI charge is to get the best available DWI defense attorney.

Premier Texas DWI attorney Doug Murphy is available to aggressively and effectively represent you. Attorney Murphy can help you defend and defeat your DWI charge. Experienced lawyers attend attorney Murphy's nationwide lectures on DWI defense and defending other criminal charges. Other lawyers have also voted attorney Murphy Best Lawyers in America's Lawyer of the Year. Attorney Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers holding both Criminal Law Board Certification and DWI Board Certification. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. online or at 713-229-8333 today for smart and comprehensive DWI defense representation.

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