Vehicle Forfeiture Law
Under Minnesota's vehicle forfeiture law, police agencies may immediately seize a vehicle that was used in the commission of certain designated offenses – most notably a 1st or 2nd Degree DWI. This can occur regardless of whether the vehicle was being driven by the owner or not. Upon the immediate seizure of the vehicle, all right, title, and interest in it vests to the arresting agency.
The State is required to give the owner of a seized vehicle a “Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit Vehicle.” This is typically done the date of the arrest or soon thereafter if the owner is not the alleged offender. The owner then has 60-days to challenge the forfeiture by bringing a civil action in district court or conciliation court (if the vehicle is valued less than $15,000). There are certain service and filing rules that are tedious and must be followed precisely within the 60-day deadline, otherwise the matter may dismissed.
Minnesota's vehicle forfeiture law grants the owner a few ways to challenge the forfeiture. The most common defense raised is the “innocent owner” defense. To succeed, the owner must show by clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated in any manner contrary to law or that the owner took reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle by the offender. This a fact intense inquiry made by the court. Of note, case law has held that simply knowing that the offender consumed alcohol does not amount to knowing that the vehicle would be used in a manner contrary to law – i.e. result in a DWI or even driving without a valid license.
Because of this, it is highly recommended that any person raising this defense obtain an vehicle forfeiture attorney to help build your case up. It’s critical to have the right evidence and witness(es) in order to demonstrate you are, in fact, an innocent owner. And an experienced vehicle forfeiture law attorney can be critical in making the right arguments and/or submitting briefs to the Court for its review.
In addition to this “innocent owner” defense, the owner will succeed if the basis for the forfeiture is the commission of the designated offense (for instance, a 2nd degree DWI) and the offender appears in court and is not convicted of this designated offense (for instance, pleads to a 3rd degree DWI). Because of this, judicial review will not be held until the related criminal proceedings are resolved.
It’s worth stressing that if you proceed with a judicial review, you should ask the Court to order that the State bear responsibility for the storage fees of your vehicle. The State will of course balk at this request. But, both statutes and case law support your request and failing to do so could cost you thousands.
Owners may be able to negotiate a buy-back agreement with the prosecuting agency and/or arresting agency. In this situation, the owner would negotiate to buy back the forfeited vehicle under certain agreed-upon terms and conditions.
A recent law change, though, now permits the owner to get their vehicle back, subject to certain terms and conditions. Read this blog here for a more detailed breakdown of how you can get your vehicle back.
The cards are stacked against the owners by the vehicle forfeiture law. Nonetheless, there are a number of defenses and strategies that exist. And because there are tight deadlines, you should contact us now to discuss your case.