Interviewer: How much would it cost for car to be impounded?
Eric Sachs: This is one of the things we fight here as well. The impound yard, you ought to understand, charges anywhere from $7 to S17 a day. By the time it gets passed along to the motorist, the county will try to charge people up to 540 a day. We’ve been fighting those to try to keep them down. But by the time this happens, the car is usually in the impound yards or anywhere from two days to two weeks to two months, depending on why the car is being held. Was the car being held because the person had a prior DUI or a DWI? Was the car involved in a car accident? Was there a fatality? Is there a possible defense that the car was involved in the car accident but it only hit parked cars or walls or poles? The prosecution – the government -will try to hang on to that car; they want to inspect the car first to see if there was any problem mechanically with the car so the driver cannot come into court and say, “It wasn’t the alcohol that made me crash. The steering column broke. Something happened to the car all by itself and I crashed into this other object.” There are additional fees for the client if they want to hire a mechanic or have a tow truck tow it from the impound yard to another mechanic’s yard so the mechanic can now inspect the car.
The District Attorney’s Office Can Hold on to Your Car as a Penalty
Interviewer: Are there any situation where the court would hold on to you car as a punishment or a penalty?
Eric Sachs: Well, the court does not. But the district attorney’s office can try to do that as well as the county attorney’s office. Every county now has a civil forfeiture law, so depending on what the code is for that particular municipality – it can be your first arrest or your second arrest – then part of the punishment for the county would be that they would start a civil lawsuit saying that you violated the county charter that says if you have a prior DWI and you have another one, the county then can move to forfeit your car because the car itself is the instrument of a crime and therefore you should not have access to this vehicle again. Personally, I think it is kind of silly because you can just buy another car and it is unconstitutional because, for the clients who do not have a lot of money and this is the car they need; it is difficult to get another car. The client who is more affluent can easily just go out and get another car. So the theory behind it – that you are punishing the person by taking away the instrument of the crime – is kind of silly. But they do that.
Also, the district attorney’s office has a civil forfeiture bureau and they also seek to forfeit the car, similarly to when they do it with somebody who is accused of selling drugs and they are arrested and they have money with them. The D.A.’s office to the county will seek to take the money as proceeds of the crime, so they do not return it to the individual. So they take that money because that is supposedly dirty money and the car that you were driving in when you got arrested is a dirty car. So they are going to take that car away. We defend those as well. The person pays some money and the county gets its money. The person gets their car back; the civil forfeiture is a potential problem for people as well.
Interviewer: Does somebody have the ability to appeal that decision as far as the whole car impounding thing?
Eric Sachs: Yes, it starts with the lawsuit. Some people can afford to pay a lawyer; then that is going to be a civil case. Then at different courthouses, they hire a lawyer to defend that or they are going to pay the criminal attorney to defend it or to settle. But, that is another legal proceeding and in another place and another courthouse that needs to be addressed. All these things cost money and these are people that need their car, especially on Long Island because there really is no mass transportation. You need your car to get to and from work and to take care of your children and do your shopping and do everything that needs to be done. In New York City, you can take the subway or a cab, but not here on Long Island.
By Eric Sachs