A hoon offence is a traffic violation that has been designated as dangerous or anti-social. There are two kinds of hoon offences in Victoria. Tier 1 offences are the most serious. Tier 2 offences (include the intentional skidding and making tires squeal that anti-hoon laws originally targeted) are less serious.
If the police think your vehicle was used to commit a hoon offence, they can seize it even before the driver is found guilty. Under some circumstances, however, you can cause the vehicle to be released.
The police must have reasonable cause to believe your vehicle was used in a hoon offence before seizing it. Unfortunately, they can seize your vehicle whether or not you were the driver. After seizing the vehicle, the police can either impound it or immobilize it for 30 days. You have certain rights if that happens.
If a police officer seizes your vehicle, that officer must notify a senior police officer as soon as possible, but no later than 48 hours after that the vehicle was impounded or immobilized. The senior police officer is required to review the circumstances of the seizure and to make an independent judgment whether the officer who seized the vehicle had reasonable grounds to believe it was used in the commission of a hoon offence.
If the senior police officer is not satisfied that reasonable grounds existed, the senior police officer must order the vehicle’s return. You will not be required to pay the costs of impoundment if that happened.
If you can satisfy the police that any of the following are true, they must return your vehicle to you:
The vehicle was stolen before it was used in the hoon offence;
The vehicle was hired by someone before it was used in the hoon offence;
It is reasonable or necessary to return the vehicle to you.
You are not required to pay impoundment costs if the vehicle was stolen or hired. The police will decide whether you should pay impoundment costs if they believe it is reasonable or necessary to return the vehicle to you.
After a vehicle has been seized, the owner or registered operator (or any other person “substantially affected” by the seizure) can apply to the Magistrate’s Court for an order seeking the vehicle’s release.
An appeal to the Magistrate’s Court can be based on the ground that the impoundment or immobilization of the vehicle is causing “exceptional hardship” to the vehicle’s owner or to some other person. The application can be made before the 30 days expires or, if your vehicle continues to be impounded because you cannot pay the storage fees, after the 30 ends.
The law does not define “exceptional hardship” so the court has considerable discretion when it hears your application for the vehicle’s return. The court might be more sympathetic if you are not the ticketed driver.
Successful claims of exceptional hardship are often based on the need for a family member to use the vehicle to obtain health care or for reasons of employment. If a claim of exceptional hardship is based on the applicant’s need to use the vehicle for employment, the Magistrate’s Court, must not return the vehicle to the person who was ticketed unless it finds that:
Driving the vehicle is essential (rather than convenient);
No other form of transportation is available; and
The ticketed person made unsuccessful efforts to find someone else to drive.
If the person claiming “exceptional hardship” is the person who allegedly committed the hoon offence, the court will not return the vehicle:
While that person’s driver licence is suspended; or
If the court believes the driver will use the vehicle to commit additional offences.
If you need some free advice, or need a competent lawyer to avoid further vehicle impoundment or forfeiture