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DWI suspects often jump through hoops to retrieve cars from NYPD

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When cops seized Priscilla Pizarro’s car during an arrest on suspicion of DWI, she didn’t know the NYPD would be taking her for a ride.

Pizarro and dozens of other New Yorkers who had their cars confiscated in suspected DWIs have jumped through hoops to get them back because cops bungled the paperwork, amNewYork found.

Car owners can request a so-called Krimstock hearing to ask a judge for their cars back. However, when police don’t notify them about their right to a hearing, most never see their vehicles again. 

How often that happens is unclear. When some owners realize on their own that they are entitled to a hearing, and they go before a judge, their cars are typically returned. In more than 25 percent of the 151 cases from 2004-10, judges ordered the cars released for that reason.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Tom O’Brien of the Legal Aid Society, which litigates such cases against the NYPD. “There are more people who should be getting their cars back but don’t know they can.”

Police could not immediately provide data on how many cars have been confiscated since the mandate came down from Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1999.

Pizarro’s long ordeal started last April when police didn’t properly notify her after she was stopped in the Bronx.

A judge ordered Pizarro’s Honda released in June after she learned about her right to a hearing. But it took almost three months before she retrieved the vehicle — far longer than the 10 days it should have taken.

“It wasn’t right what happened,” said Pizarro, 25, of the Bronx. “[I had] the right to get my car back. ... I needed to go to work. I needed to see my mother.”

Police didn’t respond to a request for comment about the paperwork problems.

Exacerbating Pizarro’s plight was the fact that her car was taken not to an NYPD lot in the city, but to a pound in Brookhaven, Long Island. She had to pay $159, including storage fees.

In 2004, a judge ordered the NYPD to speed up hearings after a severe backlog meant some owners were waiting months or even years to get their cars back.


The rules

1. When someone is arrested for a crime that involves a car they’re driving, such as a DWI, the police may seize the vehicle. The officer must give the suspect forms in person AND by mail regarding a Krimstock hearing to get the car back.

2. The hearing must be held within 10 days, although the district attorney can ask for the car not to be released because it’s needed as evidence.

3. If no one objects to the hearing, the police must satisfy the burden of proof and show that returning the car “would create a threat to public safety.”

4. The judge must make a decision within three business days after the hearing. If the suspect wins, the car must be released within 10 days. If the suspect loses, he or she will not get the car back but can contest the ruling through a State Supreme Court hearing.


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