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Vehicle Forfeiture


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1/6/2012
Tom Foster
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Arrests for driving on a suspended license often follow driving under the influence convictions like day follows night.  In addition to the usual probation, fines, and even jail time, there is a little known power that law enforcement has in suspended license cases.  In certain circumstances, the police agency that arrests you for driving on a suspended license can take your car, sell it at auction, and keep all of the proceeds. 
Under California Vehicle Code section 14601.6, a court can declare your care a “nuisance” if you repeatedly drive without a license.  The elements that the State must show in order to take your car are:
  1. You drove the car
  2. On a highway (highway means any public road)
  3. In California
  4. You had a suspended or revoked license, or you were unlicensed
  5. You were the registered owner of the car
  6. You had a previous misdemeanor conviction of driving without a license, or driving on a suspended or revoked license in California.
When most people read this law they are amazed that the State has the power to sell their car after only their second conviction for driving on a suspended license.  One must wonder how someone can be expected to pay the crushing fines of a suspended license conviction as well as their fines from their DUI conviction after their car is taken away and sold. 
Luckily, this power is rarely used by law enforcement and prosecutors.  One reason may be that most cops and Deputy DAs don’t even know about this statute.  When I was a Deputy DA most of my colleagues were shocked when I discussed this statute.  However, the more likely explanation for the infrequent use of this law is economic.  Instituting a program for forfeiting cars, tasking personnel to staff it, keeping records, and organizing auctions all costs money.  Most of the cars that would be taken in such a program would be worth little at auction.  At the end of the day, a forfeiture program would probably end up costing more than it would make.
Even though this law is rarely used it shows how serious suspended license charges are.  If you have been charged with DUI or driving on a suspended license after a DUI call 888-DUIANSWER immediately to speak with an experienced DUI attorney.


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