Responsibility for Storage Fees When Your Vehicle is Forfeited

At a recent conciliation court hearing on behalf of a client asserting that she was an innocent owner of a forfeited vehicle, the State vehemently objected to my request that the State bear responsibility for the storage fees of the vehicle. This is not surprising, which is why I was ready for this argument. But, to those appearing without counsel, this is a major issue that may not be heard and could cost the innocent owner thousands.

If you are in the unlucky position to have had your vehicle seized through no fault of your own, you must petition the Court to have the forfeited vehicle returned upon showing that you are an innocent owner. The vehicle forfeiture statute, though, is silent as to who is responsible for the storage fees. Another statute within the expansive chapter devoted to Minnesota DWI law states that the State is not liable when a vehicle is impounded. Of course, State prosecutors will rely upon this to support its argument. But, this doesn’t mean it’s correct.

That particular statute – Minn. Stat. 169A.42 – does not pertain to vehicles forfeited pursuant to Minn. Stat. 169A.63. And, as such, it should not be used to justify the innocent owner bearing the thousands of dollars for the wrongful storage of his or her vehicle. This is especially true when “all right, title, and interest” in the vehicle immediately vests to the State merely upon the commission of the DWI. So, if the State has unfettered control and access to the vehicle, an innocent owner cannot get his or her vehicle to avoid the ever-rising costs of storage during the pendency of judicial review. And when you consider many DWI’s take months to resolve before the innocent owner even has an opportunity to be heard, this can result in thousands of dollars worth of storage fees.

In addition to this statutory language argument highlighted above, a 2001 Minnesota Supreme Court case touched on this topic – albeit while analyzing the old Minnesota DWI law. The State will quickly point this out. Still, the analysis is strong and supports the conclusion that the State must bear the storage fees when a vehicle is judicially ordered to be return upon a showing that the owner is an innocent owner.

It is critical that any person proceeding with a judicial review of their forfeited vehicle to raise this issue in Court because, if it is not addressed, the State will likely stick the owner with the bill. Because of this, it is equally as critical to hire a Minnesota vehicle forfeiture attorney that understands the nuances of the statutes and case law in order to best fight on your behalf.