How Long Can Police Hold a Vehicle under Investigation?

If your vehicle has been impounded after an arrest, such as driving without a license or registration, etc., the police may hold your vehicle for a period of time set by local authorities. However, the police usually conduct an inventory search of a vehicle after it has been confiscated.

Police can hold a vehicle under investigation for a reasonable time. This is usually interpreted to mean 30 days. However, it may be longer. Police are meant to use as little time as possible to search those parts of the vehicle for which they have legal permission before returning it to the owner if the vehicle is found to be clean.

If a person is arrested and the vehicle is legally towed by the police, they may conduct an inventory search of the vehicle.

If a person is arrested for a suspension from driving, the police cannot search the car for drugs without a good reason and a warrant. Whether the police can legally confiscate your car usually depends on the specific circumstances of the situation. Whether the police will be able to search a seized vehicle will depend on the specifics of the circumstances. If a person is arrested for marijuana and the police have plausible reason to believe there is additional evidence related to marijuana in the vehicle, they may search the vehicle.

An Officer Can Search the Vehicle for Reasonable Suspicion

This means that if a police officer stops your car and smells marijuana, the officer probably has reason to believe that there is marijuana in the car and may search the car and the containers inside that car for marijuana. For example, if there is a strong smell of marijuana or signs of spoilage, the police may use these as grounds for reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle. The main takeaway from these examples is that law enforcement must have a reasonable suspicion of ongoing criminal activity in order to conduct a lawful search of your vehicle.

If the police seize a vehicle for purely administrative reasons, that reason in itself is not grounds for an arrest and cannot be used as a ruse to carry out the duties of investigating criminal activity. In this case, law enforcement may arrest the person and confiscate the vehicle if there are no other people to take control. State and local officials may confiscate vehicles for a variety of reasons not related to any criminal investigation. As a rule, the police do not have the right to confiscate your vehicle just because it was involved in a normal traffic stop.

Restrictions on What Can Be Searched Exist

Some states allow agents to search every part of a seized vehicle for inventory, while other states only allow a brief scan of the vehicle for items. The inventory search can be non-selective; they must be applied and administered in the same way each time the vehicle is “confiscated”, which does not necessarily mean the same as “towing”, by an officer or agency.

Under the evolving inventory search doctrine in Colorado, when a person is arrested after driving, the police no longer have the power to automatically seize and search that vehicle because departmental rules allow such a search.

If your vehicle has been impounded with a search warrant, you may need a court order to release your vehicle. If the vehicle is held for 30 days, your vehicle may be released prior to the release date if the person driving the vehicle at the time of the seizure has obtained a valid driver’s license from the DMV.

Vehicular Seizures Normally Have Time Limits

When a vehicle enters a seized area with a hold for the investigative unit (not for confiscation/arrest), the seized area will observe the hold for five consecutive working days, excluding weekends/holidays. To detain a vehicle for more than five days on a seized lot, an additional conclusion of the investigative unit is required before the expiration of the five-day period, indicating the persons requiring the detention of the vehicle, as well as the specific legal reason for the detention of the vehicle.

When the vehicle is evacuated to a detained area for detention in the investigation department of the ATS, for seizure or material evidence, or for any other reason, the towing dispatcher checks the line “Vehicle detained / For whom” and the unit for which the vehicle must be clearly marked. If the vehicle is waiting for the police at the time of the confiscation, the police officer marks “Yes” in the evacuation report for “Vehicle held for confiscation”.

All vehicles requiring further processing for evidence must be towed to the St. Paul Police Highway Station accompanied by a police officer to maintain the evidence chain. Vehicles seized pursuant to ARS 28-3511 will be placed into compulsory retention as required by state law.

The Phoenix Police Department may release impounded vehicles under ARS 28-3511 after all requirements under state law are met. In certain situations, the owner’s spouse may also enter into an agreement with the Phoenix Police Department stating that they will not allow a driver arrested for driving under the influence or aggravation, or a minor under the influence of alcohol, to drive a vehicle for one year.

Police Return Cars to Innocent Owners

After you are convicted or acquitted of a crime, the police will no longer need your car and can return it. If the car was involved in a crime, such as drunk driving, the police could simply hold the car in custody. In these cases, the police don’t need the car as evidence and just leave it as a public safety issue. For example, if your vehicle is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, the police may hold your vehicle to suspend the criminal investigation.

Seizures may be considered justified if police fears of vandalism are reasonable, or if the vehicle is blocking traffic or parked beside a busy highway, making it easy prey for thieves and potentially posing a safety hazard. Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions, the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions, Colorado law enforcement can search vehicles that are legally impounded and seize any contraband or evidence of a crime found as a result of the search.

Gene Botkin

Gene is a graduate student in cybersecurity and AI at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Ongoing philosophy and theology student.

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