Key Facts About Vehicle Impoundment in New Jersey
If you are arrested for driving while intoxicated or for refusing to submit to a breath test, the police must impound the vehicle you were driving. State law requires that your car be impounded for at least 12 hours. After the 12-hour mandatory impoundment period, you can reclaim your car, or send someone to reclaim it on your behalf. You are responsible for paying a reasonable fee for towing and storage, and your car will remain in the impound lot until you can pay the fee in full.
If you do not own the car you were arrested in, the lawful owner can reclaim their car prior to the 12-hour period provided that they can:
- Present a valid license, proof of ownership, proof of lawful authority to operate the vehicle, and proof of current car insurance.
- Proof that they are capable of operating the car in a safe manner and would not be in violation of any motor vehicle code.
- Proof that the person receiving the car can comply with any other conditions for release of the vehicle established by the arresting law enforcement agency.
DWI Car Hold – John’s Law
The law that authorizes police to hold cars for up to 12 hours after a DWI is referred to as “John’s Law.” Tragically, a young man named John R. Elliot was killed on July 22, 2000 in a head-on collision with a driver who had been charged with drunk driving earlier that evening. John was a promising midshipman from the United States Naval Academy. John’s father persuaded lawmakers to adopt the 12-hour mandatory minimum holding period to prevent others from suffering the same fate as his late son.
The drunk driver who caused the crash, Michael Pangle, had been arrested with a blood-alcohol content of 0.21 percent earlier that night and was taken to the state police barracks. He was released when a friend came to get him. Just three hours after his release, he was driving the same SUV that he had been arrested in earlier that evening. Both Pangle and Elliot were killed instantly in the crash.
The friend who picked Pangle up was charged with manslaughter, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault as an accomplice to the drunk driving accident, even though he was not in the car at the time. His trial ended in a hung jury.
Can the Police Search Your Car While it is Impounded?
Whether the police may conduct a search of the interior of your car while it is impounded depends on the facts of your case. Under certain circumstances, police may perform an “inventory” search of your car’s content so that your property can be accounted for and safeguarded. If law enforcement stumble upon contraband (including drugs or weapons) during the process you may be charged with a crime. Police cannot automatically conduct an inventory search when your car is impounded: the owner of the vehicle must first be given the opportunity to remove their property from the car.
Police can also search your impounded car if they had probable cause to conduct a warrantless search at the spot where the officers encountered the car. For example, if police saw drugs lying on your seat when they pulled you over for swerving and arrested you for drunk driving, they can bring your car back to impound and search it there.
Officers can also search your impounded car if a judge has issued a warrant based on probable cause that evidence of a crime is located inside the vehicle.
New Jersey DWI Lawyer Edward M. Janzekovich Defends Against Drunk Driving Charges and Illegal Searches
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, you need an experienced lawyer in your corner. New Jersey DUI lawyer Edward M. Janzekovich has a successful track record of defending against drunk driving charges and illegal searches, such as purported “inventory” searches. To learn more about how we can help you, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We represent clients throughout New Jersey, including Ocean County, Monmouth County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Union County and Somerset County.