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Circumstances Relating to the Police Impound of Automobiles During DUI Investigations

There are a handful of circumstances where, during the course of a DUI investigation and/or arrest, the police will also impound the suspected drunken driver's car or truck for a 30 day period. Specifically, aan impound is likely to occur where the police have alleged violations of ARS 4-244, which involves a minor driving an automobile with alcohol in his or her system. For drivers under the age of 21, this charge arises where there is even a slight bit of alcohol in the system – in Arizona, there is no "legal limit" for drivers who are under 21. The impound will also take place for persons charged with DUI pursuant ARS 28 – 1382 ("Extreme" DUI and "Super Extreme" DUI – blood alcohol concentrations over .15 and .20 percent respectively. Finally, the impound comes for charges under ARS 28 – 1383, for Aggravated DUI – felony DUI - a DUI that is committed while the driver's license is suspended, or a DUI that is committed while driver has minor children in the car. Note that there are many additional traffic offense related grounds for impound as set forth in ARS 28-2511. However, our discussion here is limited to the alcohol related impound offenses.

In many cases, the police do not have the right to retain the automobile impound for the entire 30 days. The full set of circumstances that entitle persons to early release on impounded vehicles are set forth in ARS 28-3512. But here are a few notable "early release" circumstances that may allow for retrieval of impounded automobile prior to the 30 day requirement:

First, consider the example of a non-driver owner or co-owner. If a person other than the charged driver is an owner or co-owner of the automobile, then the non-offending owner or co-owner is entitled to early release. This can include the spouse or the significant other of the driver, so long as the spouse or significant other is listed as owner or joint owner on the registration or title. It also might include the parents of a minor was charged with the so-called "Baby DUI," the DUI where there is the slightest bit of alcohol in the minor's system.

A similar circumstance arises even where the owner is a step or two further removed from the driver than in the above example. A rental car, obviously, can be retrieved from impound by the rental agency. Likewise a business owner whose employee committed the offense would be entitled to retrieve the car prior to 30 days. Needless to say, if the car has been stolen, the true owner can get early retrieval.

Perhaps the most interesting question for early retrieval, arises in cases where common sense would dictate the car should be returned, but the law is less than clear subject. The impound law distinguishes between the basic DUI offense (BAC over 0.08%) and the above referenced Extreme and Aggravated DUI offenses. For the basic DUI the police have no right to impound the vehicle for 30 days. The question then, is what happens where a police officer charges a suspect with an Extreme DUI, but blood lab results reveal that the blood alcohol content was not as high as the police officer suspected, i.e., the blood lab results show that the blood had an alcohol concentration lower than .15%. Is the driver entitled to early retrieval of the car or truck in that case?