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Vehicle Forfeiture & Immobilization

OWI or operating while intoxicated is a serious offense in Michigan and can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, jail time and a suspended driver’s license. Michigan vehicle forfeiture and immobilization are other possible penalties after an OWI offense.

Repeat Michigan drunk driving offenders can lose their vehicles, while vehicle immobilization is possible even for first-time offenders. Immobilization and vehicle forfeiture can be expensive and burdensome penalties. It is best to consult with a Michigan DUI / OWI defense lawyer who focuses on vehicle forfeiture and immobilization issues.

DUI Consequences For Your Vehicle

In Michigan, a number of potential consequences of a drunk driving charge may affect the ownership rights you have in your vehicle. For instance:

  • Vehicle forfeiture means that the car is taken from the offender and sold. If the vehicle is co-owned, the state evenly splits the proceeds from the sale with the co-owner after paying the costs of forfeiture.
  • Vehicle immobilization allows the owner of a vehicle to keep the car, but prevents it from being driven.
  • License plate confiscation involves law enforcement destroying the license plate on a vehicle.
  • Denial of registration means the offender cannot register a car, renew a registration or sell or transfer any vehicles that he owns or co-owns until the registration denial has ended.

Vehicle Forfeiture

Vehicle forfeiture is the most extreme of the actions taken in regards to your vehicle after an OWI offense. Vehicle forfeiture is possible at the court’s discretion if:

  • If you are charged with a first OWI / OWVI offense and death or injury occurred as a result of your intoxicated driving.
  • The drunk driving offense is your second offense or if you have committed a prior OWI / OWVI crime within the past seven years, regardless of your BAC or of whether injury arose as long as the offense was not a zero tolerance offense.
  • The offense is your third offense or you’ve committed two prior crimes in the past 10 years regardless of your BAC or whether any injury occurred.

The court will use its discretion during the sentencing phase of your criminal trial in determining whether vehicle forfeiture is appropriate in your case. Forfeiture applies only to the vehicles of the OWI offender. An innocent individual whose vehicle was borrowed by someone intoxicated is not at risk of having his or her vehicle forfeited.

When a forfeited vehicle is leased, the vehicle will be returned to the lease company. Otherwise, proceeds derived from a disposition of the car are split between innocent co-owners and the secretary of state.

Vehicle Immobilization

Vehicle immobilization allows an offender to keep his or her vehicle after an OWI offense, but the vehicle is made unusable. Vehicle immobilization is imposed during the criminal sentencing process, and the period of immobilization begins at the end of any jail term served. After an OWI conviction, your vehicle may be immobilized:

  • For up to 180 days if you had no prior convictions at the time of your OWI arrest.
  • For between 90 and 180 days if you had at least one prior conviction for OWI or related offenses within the prior seven years.
  • For between one year and three years if you had two or more OWI or related convictions in the past prior to your OWI.

Operating without a breath alcohol ignition interlock device if one is required can also result in immobilization for up to 180 days.

License Plate Confiscation

License plate confiscation occurs when you are arrested for an OWI if you have had one prior conviction within the past seven years or two prior convictions at any time. Law enforcement officers will take the metal plate off of your car and you will be issued a paper plate instead. You will be unable to obtain another metal plate until your court case is over.

License plate confiscation may occur even if someone other than the individual who committed the OWI offense owns the car. However, the vehicle’s owner may continue to drive the car with a paper license plate as long as the owner has a valid license.

Denial of Registration

Those who have had their driver’s license suspended for three or more drunk driving offenses are not permitted to register their vehicle until their licenses have been returned. Any cars that the offender owns or co-owns will not be able to be registered, nor can registrations be transferred or renewed while the denial of registration is in effect.

Get Legal Help to Keep Your Vehicle

Avoiding vehicle forfeiture by attempting to transfer the car to another party is a felony and you may face up to four years in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,000 if you try to transfer your car so the government cannot take it. This is a bad risk to take.

Instead, if you wish to avoid vehicle forfeiture or the other potential consequences of an OWI conviction on ownership of your vehicle, it is best to consult with an immobilization lawyer or a Michigan vehicle forfeiture attorney. Your attorney may assist you in fighting the vehicle forfeiture or immobilization by:

  • Serving a demand for judicial review.
  • Proving that the owner was not driving at the time of the offense.
  • Demonstrating that an innocent party (such as a spouse) actually owns the car. This is sometimes called the innocent owner defense.
  • Proving a violation of your constitutional rights in the police’s investigation of your OWI offense.

Your attorney can explain these and other options for responding to a forfeiture action so you can avoid vehicle forfeiture and keep the car you own, even after an OWI charge.

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