Even if you retain a criminal defense attorney who helps you avoid jail or a significant fine on a plea to Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in New York City, there is always the potential that the vehicle you were driving at the time you were arrested may be forfeited. In fact, this past March the Appellate Division First Department (an appellate court with jurisdiction over the Bronx and Manhattan) upheld a forfeiture of a car where the vehicle driven during the DWI offense was a BMW valued in excess of $20,000.
In the above mentioned case, the owner of the car argued that New York City should not be able to seize and keep the vehicle because the punishment was excessive. The owner reasoned that if the maximum fine is $1000 for the DWI offense, the forfeiture of a vehicle valued over $20,000 is clearly excessive. Unfortunately for the owner, the First Department was not swayed. Further compounding things, the First Department also rejected the owner’s argument that his equal protection rights were violated because the New York City Police Department only sought the seizure and forfeiture of expensive cars. This allegation, according to the First Department, was merely speculative.
On a positive note, a conviction for DWI does not mean you will automatically loose your vehicle. Although the owner of the vehicle has the burden of proof, where the driver of the car who was convicted of the DWI was not the owner there is a potential defense to the forfeiture commonly known as the “innocent owner” defense. Additionally, notice of the forfeiture action must be given and individuals including, but not limited to, the owner who may be able to request a hearing on the matter.