Speedy Trial Statute for NC DWI in Vehicle Seizure Cases

In general, North Carolina does not have a speedy trial statute, that is to say that you are not entitled by North Carolina law to have your case heard quickly or within a specific time frame. It is for these reason that many cases can take years to resolve in the North Carolina court system, meaning that some people without means languish in custody awaiting trial because they don’t have the financial ability to bond out. As a result, many defendants take plea deals to end their case more quickly and to get out of custody. I have a very tall soapbox about this topic by itself, but for today, I’m going to focus on speedy trial as it relates to North Carolina DWI cases where a vehicle seizure is involved.

There are certain circumstances in which the state can seize a vehicle upon an arrest for Driving While Impaired (DWI). Many people are surprised to learn that their vehicle can be seized upon arrest and not conviction. Innocent until proven guilty anyone? Our state legislature has decided that vehicles can be seized in cases where the driver has been arrested for DWI when:

  • the driver’s license is revoked at the time of the DWI arrest as a result of a prior DWI conviction
  • if the driver has no valid license at the time of the arrest and lacks liability insurance

Going back to my original statement about NC not having a speedy trial statute – in rare cases, there is a way around this, including in vehicle seizure cases. NC General Statute 20-20(m) states that:

“District court trials of impaired driving offenses involving forfeitures of motor vehicles pursuant to G.S.20-28.2 shall be scheduled on the arresting officer’s next court date or within 30 days of the offense, whichever comes first.

Once scheduled, the case shall not be continued unless all of the following conditions are met:

(1) A written motion for continuance is filed with notice given to the opposing party prior to the motion being heard;

(2)The judge makes a finding of a ‘compelling reason’ for the continuance;

(3) The motion and finding are attached to the court case record.”

So what does this mean? It means that unless all of the conditions for a continuance are met, that a trial MUST be held no later than 30 days after the date of the arrest.

Having said all of this, it is still rare that cases involving vehicle seizure go to trial within 30 days. Why? Because often times, while having a vehicle seized is a bad thing, having a conviction for a DWI is much, much worse. If there are bad facts and risk of conviction, it is often in a defendant’s best interest to be patient to try to get the best possible outcome on the DWI case. However, if a defendant has very strong facts on the DWI and the vehicle was seized, then a speedy trial is desirable.

If you have been charged with a DWI in Raleigh or elsewhere in Wake County, contact a Raleigh DWI lawyer at The Chetson Firm for a consultation about your case.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.