Normally, seizures of private property are extremely rare in the law. Our country has a tradition of respecting the private property rights of its citizens. However, one glaring exception to this in North Carolina is the seizure and forfeiture law that is in place regarding certain types of charges for DWI. This little known rule allows counties to seize vehicles seized after certain types of DWI charges. The local school district obtains possession of the vehicles.  Oftentimes, the school district will sell the vehicles to get their cash value.  On its face, many people would probably support this law. After all, the money is “for the kids,” and don’t people who drive while impaired deserve to have their cars taken? There is, however, another way to look at this.  People lose their legally owned property take from them.  They have worked hard to acquire their vehicles.

How Vehicle Seizure Works

Here is one relatively common way that could face vehicle seizure. If you are on a revocation period because of a prior DWI, and you are even charged with another DWI, then your vehicle will be seized and impounded until your case is resolved. There also another way to have your vehicle seized.  If you don’t have a valid license or insurance, and are charged with DWI, your car will be taken.

While typically a car is released if the person is found not guilty, and is only permanently taken if they are found guilty, person who is found not guilty can still lose their car under the DWI seizure and forfeiture law.  A car valued below $1,500, that has been impounded for 90 days, that it too expensive to store and maintain, is sold to cover the costs- regardless of the outcome of your case!  You do not even have to have a conviction before your car is taken. Normally, punishment only comes after conviction. However, under this specific provision of NC DWI law, you can have your car taken immediately. For most people, a car is one of the most expensive assets that they own. A simple charge for a crime results in the loss of a high value asset.

What About Third Parties?

Third parties complicate the law even further. For instance, if there is a lienholder who holds an interest in the car, they have to petition to protect their interest in the car. Also, if the person driving the vehicle was not the owner, the true owner has to petition to get their vehicle back. As you can see, this law can cause nightmares for everyone involved. Fortunately, the legislature did think the law through enough to include provisions to protect the owners of vehicles and lienholders.  The General Assembly also provided some protection for the person charged by giving the these trials a high priority.  Nevertheless, this is still a difficult issue in the law.


A charge for a DWI while you have had your license revoked for a prior DWI gives you extra incentive to fight your case. While an ordinary DWI has serious consequences, when your car is on the line, the stakes are raised even further. If you face a DWI charge, give our DWI attorneys a call.  You can reach Anthony Wayne at (704) 960-9097.  Robert Reeves is available at (704) 351-7979. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have about your case.  Our attorneys are happy to meet with you to discuss your case.