NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Confiscating Drunk Drivers' Cars

February 26, 1999

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's plan to get tough on drunken drivers by confiscating their vehicles has drawn some criticism. Opponents note that cars are gone before their unfortunate owners have their day in court. Others argue that asset forfeiture rests on shaky legal legs.

  • Under the mayor's plan, the city could keep the car even if it were not the property of the driver and even if the driver were found not guilty.
  • Drivers found not guilty in criminal court could be required to prove in civil court that they deserve their vehicles back.
  • In any event, they stand to lose the use of their vehicles for at least a month -- the amount of time it takes New York courts to schedule hearings.
  • Nationwide, alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities have plummeted since 1980, while fatalities not related to alcohol have increased by 40 percent over the past two decades.

Of the 56,000 drivers involved in fatal crashes in 1997, only 18 percent were legally drunk, experts report.

The 20 or so states which allow vehicle forfeiture in drunk driving cases concentrate on repeat offenders. But first-timers face that penalty in New York City.

Source: Editorial, "New York Car-Seizure Plan Runs Over Rights of Innocent," USA Today, February 26, 1999.


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