A federal appeals court from the Second Circuit recently decided that the state has the authority to seize and retain a suspect’s vehicle before a verdict of guilty is ever passed. So much for the presumption of innocence and protection from due process of the law.
The recently issued opinion, Ferrari v. County of Suffolk, involved a man accused of drunk driving in New York. He was pulled over by a police officer who later testified of the suspect’s slurred speech and difficulty walking. After conducting an initial investigation, the suspect was arrested and booked on felony DWI charges, and misdemeanor drug possession charges.
Following this, the police immediately impounded his vehicle, which happens to be a Ferrari. Now this car worth over $90,000 would become the state’s property upon being convicted of a second DWI. Since the suspect in this case had more than one DWI in his past, his car was subject to that law. But he asked the court to release the car pending the results of the prosecution. After all, are we not under a system of laws that presumes innocence in criminal cases?
Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
The court would not release the man’s vehicle pending the results of the DWI charges. But the DWI suspect did not take this decision lying down. He took his case to the federal courts and asked them to give him a trial on whether his constitutional rights to due process were violated when the state retained his vehicle pending the criminal trial.
The district court granted him a trial on that issue. The jury in that trial awarded the man a verdict against the state for $95,000 because his rights were violated. But the court of appeals did not let the verdict remain. In fact, they reversed the verdict and sent the case back to have the car impounded. According to the court’s opinion, the state had a compelling interest in keeping this suspect and his car off the roads. As a result, the state was justified in keeping his car.
What this amounted to for this man was a fine for DWI of $95,000 for DWI. What seems excessive on its face to you and me became a legal tool that the state can use to prevent and punish DWIs in the future. But is it right, and does it violate other portions of the Constitution, such as the excessive punishments clause?
An Uphill Battle for DWI Suspects
This case is another example of the uphill battle that DWI suspects face. This battle is different than any other criminal charge because of the perception that a DWI suspect is guilty once charged. This presumption is due in part to the evidence of BAC in cases, and the public advertisement campaign constantly waged against DWIs.
So what is someone charged with DWI to do? The first thing to do is hire the right attorney to defend your case. At The Wilder DWI Defense Firm our name says it all. Contact us today so we can begin fight your DWI charges as soon as possible.