What To Know About Tennessee’s DUI Vehicle Forfeiture Laws

Tennessee takes drunk driving very seriously. According to data from the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), the law enforcement agency issues approximately 7,000 DUI citations each year. Local police departments make many thousands more DUI arrests. Even a first-time drunk driving offense can lead to serious criminal penalties. 

If you already have prior drunk driving convictions on your criminal record, you will be subject to enhanced penalties, potentially including the outright forfeiture of your vehicle. In this blog post, our Knoxville DUI defense attorney highlights the most important things drivers should know about Tennessee’s drunk driving vehicle forfeiture laws. 

Tennessee Law: Law Enforcement May Initiate Vehicle Forfeiture For Multiple DUIs

As noted above, Tennessee has enhanced DUI penalties in place for second, third, and fourth time DUI offenses. Under state law (TN Code § 55-10-414), the “vehicle used in the commission of a person’s second or subsequent” DUI offense may be “subject to seizure and forfeiture.” 

Simply described, asset forfeiture is a form of legal confiscation whereby authorities can take the property that is alleged to be the proceeds of a crime or the instrument of a crime. In DUI cases, the general allegation is that the vehicle was the instrument used to commit the offense. 

Civil Forfeiture Is Not a Mandatory Penalty In Second-Time DUI Cases In Tennessee

In Tennessee, authorities do not seek to seize the vehicle in every second-time DUI case. However the law is clear: They have the authority to initiate forfeiture proceedings. As such, it is crucial that you are fully prepared to take action to protect your vehicle after a second (or subsequent) DUI arrest. Do not plead guilty without understanding the full ramifications, including the potential for having your car seized. 

How Does Notice Of Property Seizure and Forfeiture Work In Tennessee

Law enforcement officers do not have the right to simply permanently confiscate your property without warning. Under Tennessee law, you are entitled to receive a document called a ‘Notice of Seizure and Forfeiture of Conveyances’ from the police officer who is initiating the forfeiture of your vehicle. 

As a general rule, you have 30 days from the date this form is received to request a forfeiture hearing. A hearing will be set and you have an opportunity to raise a case to defend your vehicle against seizure by the state. Notably, you have the responsibility of filing a hearing if you receive a vehicle forfeiture notice. If you fail to exercise your right to request a hearing, one will not be scheduled and the government will simply take your property.   

The Best Way To Protect Your Rights and Your Vehicle: Hire A DUI Attorney

Under Tennessee law, the government has the ability to seize your vehicle if you commit two or more violations of the DUI laws. However, a second-time DUI arrest is not proof of a violation—an arrest is an allegation. To ensure your vehicle is best protected against the risk of asset forfeiture, you should hire an experienced Tennessee DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest. Your lawyer will review your the charges and consider all options to protect you, including: 

  • Evaluating the drunk driving arrest to ensure your rights were respected;
  • Gathering all evidence that may exonerate you against the charges; and
  • Considering a plea agreement that takes certain penalties, potentially including vehicle forfeiture, off the table.  

Ultimately, every DUI case involves its own unique set of facts. While every drunk driving charge is a serious matter, drivers who are accused of a second, third, or fourth DUI offense face heightened criminal penalties. If you were arrested for a second-time DUI in East Tennessee, it is essential that you take swift action to protect your rights, your license, your freedom, and your vehicle. A Knoxville DUI defense attorney can help. 

Call Our Knoxville, TN DUI Defense Lawyer For Immediate Guidance and Support

At The Barnes Law Firm, our Knoxville criminal defense attorneys have the professionals skills and legal knowledge to handle the full range of intoxicated driving charges. If you have any questions or concerns about Tennessee’s DUI vehicle forfeiture laws, we are here to help. Our law firm will protect your rights. Call us now or send us a message online for a strictly confidential review and evaluation of your case. With an office in Knoxville, we defend DUI charges throughout East Tennessee, including in Blount County, Sevier County, Knox County, and Roane County.