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NYC DWI Car Forfeiture

By Spodek Law Group | July 28, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 12, 2023)

Last Updated on: 12th October 2023, 10:42 am

NYC DWI Car Forfeiture – What You Need to Know

Getting arrested for DWI in NYC can be scary enough, but now you have to worry about getting your car taken away too? That don’t seem fair. But it’s the law here, and you gotta know how it works if you wanna get your wheels back.

Let me break it down for you…

What is civil forfeiture?

Civil forfeiture is when the police can take your property, without even charging you with a crime. I know, it sounds crazy right? But in NYC, if you get picked up for DWI, the cops can seize your car on the spot. Even if you aren’t convicted later on, you still gotta fight to get it back.

How’s it work?

Here’s the deal…

  • You get arrested for DWI in NYC
  • The cops tow your car away, even if it’s parked legally
  • They start a civil forfeiture case against your car – so it’s the car that gets charged, not you
  • You now gotta prove you should get the car back by fighting the case
  • Even if you beat the criminal DWI charges, you still might lose your car!

Crazy right? It started back in the 90’s when Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD wanted to get tough on drunk driving. The law got challenged, but the courts said it was okay.

What happens in forfeiture court?

To try and get your car back, you gotta go down to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) and plead your case. It’s a civil court, so the rules are different than criminal court:

  • You don’t got a right to an attorney – you gotta hire your own
  • The burden of proof is lower – the city just has to show “reasonable cause,” not “beyond a reasonable doubt” like in criminal court
  • Even if you’re found “not guilty” of DWI, you can still lose your car!

So it’s really stacked against you. The city don’t have to prove nothing to take your property. And it happens alot – like 500 cars a year get seized for DWI forfeiture.

What are my options?

If you want any chance of getting your car back, you need a good lawyer who knows this messed up system. They can help you:

  • File a claim within 10 days to start the court process
  • Try to settle with the city before court to get your car back faster
  • Argue there was no “reasonable cause” for the seizure
  • Point out procedural mistakes by the city
  • Negotiate a settlement to get your car back without admitting guilt

It ain’t easy, and it’ll cost you. Expect to pay at least $3,000 – $5,000 in legal fees to fight it. And even then, there’s no guarantee you’ll win. The deck is stacked against you.

What if I lose?

If you lose your case, the city keeps your car and auctions it off. You don’t get nothing – not the car, and not the money from selling it. Even if you had a loan or lease on it, you’re still on the hook for the payments. Adding insult to injury, the city can come after you for storage fees and towing charges too.

It’s a raw deal any way you slice it. That’s why you gotta be real careful driving in NYC if you’ve had even one drink. A DWI arrest means you’re gambling your car every time.

Well, hope this helped explain how the whack DWI forfeiture laws work here. Drive safe out there, and don’t give those greedy bastards an excuse to swipe your ride!


Here are some references I used for this article:

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