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Panel to study DWI car seizures

The Vehicular Crimes Unit advisory panel, created Thursday, Nov. 20, by the Albany County District Attorney's office is studying DWI policy and potential vehicle confiscations for misdemeanor drunk driving offenses.

Currently the law allows for confiscation of vehicles for felony arrests, but not for misdemeanors, said Heather Orth, spokeswoman for the district attorney.

The advisory panel will be looking around the county and the state at best practices [for DWI], Orth said.

She said David Soares' office will then decide whether they will recommend the Albany County Legislature adopt a local law allowing the confiscation of cars for misdemeanor DWI arrests.

The advisory panel includes law enforcement officials, college professors and advocacy group members.

Currently there is no bill before the County Legislature, said Betsy Weiss, the director of research for the Majority Counsel's office.

She did say, though, that Soares did bring up the issue earlier last month though.

"He did say at the review of the District Attorney's budget before the audit and finance committee that he intends to submit one," she said.

DWI attorney Peter Gerstenzang said car seizures will add another level of hearings and procedures to the legal process, and also can be complicated by fact that many drivers lease cars and do not own them outright.

"I think it's going to be burdensome for either the DA or whoever does those hearings," Gerstenzang said.

He said the downside is that police officers will need to appear at another hearing on top of the one dealing with the driver's suspended license.

He also said that for those not found guilty, it is a sizable inconvenience to not have your vehicle for the duration of the court proceedings.

"It's some very significant penalties for people who haven't been proven guilty," Gerstenzang said.

Ultimately Gerstenzang said the decision rests in the hands of the County Legislature. The District attorney's office will also have to decide, if a law is passed, on what resources to use toward implementing the policy, he said.

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