Police and courts have broad powers to seize evidence of a crime, which may include illegal items like drugs, personal items, or even vehicles. In general, anything that is involved in a crime can be seized as evidence. Even further, however, the State can usually seize any property that involved in the commission of a crime under “civil forfeiture” rules.
If your car was seized in connection with a criminal investigation, whether you or someone else was the suspect, talk to an attorney right away. A Ventura criminal defense lawyer at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth offer free consultations for those accused of crimes, or who want to retrieve their property from police custody.
When Can Police Seize a Vehicle Used in a Crime?
Police often seize and tow cars that are suspected of being used in a crime. In many cases of drug trafficking or possession, police will tow the vehicle back to their headquarters to search the car. In cases of hit-and-runs, DUI, reckless driving, vehicular assault, and vehicular manslaughter, police may take the car as evidence to examine damage, blood, or markings left on the vehicle.
In cases of severe traffic crimes that lead to arrest, police often must tow the car or drive it to the station for safekeeping. This will often involve an inventory search of the car when it arrives at the station, and could result in more charges if police discover drugs or illegal items in the car. However, when a car is seized for these purposes, it is usually returned as soon as possible. In these cases, the police do not need the car as evidence, and merely hold onto it as a public safety concern.
Lastly, police may seize any items that are related to a crime under “civil forfeiture” rules. This allows the police to initiate a lawsuit against the property itself, in what is called an “in rem action.” This yields case names such as California v. 2004 Toyota Corolla or California v. $100,000 Dollars. Since the case is against the property, not the owner, rules are often complicated for when you are entitled to a lawyer and whether one is provided for you. However, since 2016, California’s civil forfeiture system requires a conviction for a crime before the government can permanently keep the seized property or vehicle or sell it.
Getting Your Car Back after Seizure by Police in CA
Getting your car back after the police seize it is very different depending on why the police seized it in the first place. If the car was involved in a crime like DUI, police may simply hold onto the car for safekeeping. This usually means they will give you some sort of receipt to retrieve the car later. Simply going to the specified police station or impound lot and asking for your car is usually enough. If you were not driving the car when it was seized, police will often call you or show up at your house to tell you that your car was towed, and may help you get it back.
If your car was used in a crime, but you were not involved, it may be more complicated. Police often want to keep things like vehicles as evidence of a crime. If you were the victim of a crime, such as grand theft auto, police will usually try to return the vehicle as quickly as possible. If your car was used by a friend or loved one, police may not be as willing to return the vehicle. In these cases, you may need to follow the same steps to get your car back as if you were the criminal suspect.
If you are the suspect of a crime, and your car was seized in connection with that crime, you may not be able to get your car back. In some cases, this may be temporary. The police and the courts may not be willing to give you your car back until your case goes to trial. After you are convicted or acquitted of the crime, police will have no more need for the vehicle and may return it. In some cases, courts are willing to return the car early. In these cases, police may have no justification to keep the car if they have already gathered all evidence.
In cases of civil forfeiture, the State may be able to permanently keep or sell any vehicles used in a crime. This cannot happen without notice and an opportunity to be heard, meaning you will be notified and given a chance to defend your property. This also cannot happen under CA law unless someone is actually convicted of a crime – whether that is you or someone else who was using the car.
Ventura Criminal Lawyer
If the police have your car, you may need to talk to an attorney to get it back. The California criminal lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth may be able to file paperwork with the courts to demand your property back. If you were charged with a crime, our lawyers can also defend you against these charges. For a free consultation, contact out Ventura criminal defense attorneys today at (508) 585-5056.