Vehicle Forfeiture - How to Get Your Vehicle Back

To many, the most severe collateral consequence stemming from a DWI is the vehicle forfeiture. The vehicle forfeiture law is convoluted, but in essence it means that, if you are convicted of a second-degree DWI, or worse, then the State may lawfully forfeit your vehicle. That means, the defendant loses his/her vehicle as an additional consequence above and beyond the criminal sanctions. A new law change (Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subd. 13), though, allows the owner to get the vehicle back and stop the forfeiture process, if certain steps are taken. Here’s how you can get your vehicle back if the State is attempting to forfeit it.

In order to take advantage of this law change, there are two conditions that must be met by the registered owner: (1) the owner must become a participant in the State’s ignition interlock device program and (2) the forfeiture matter is pending. The latter requires that the owner have already filed a petition for judicial review and that forfeiture matter is still pending before the court – i.e. there is no final judgment from the court.

As far as the first requirement, there is a point of contention between defense attorneys and the State as to what this means. The law simply requires that the owner enroll in the program and it does not specify that the vehicle subject to forfeiture must be the vehicle that has ignition interlock installed in it. So, in theory, an owner could enroll in the ignition interlock program for a different vehicle and then demand the return of the subject vehicle. State attorneys are not keen on this yet. Part of the reason is that the new law allows the State to require the installation of the device in the vehicle before it’s driven away.

Assuming that the owner wishes to have the ignition interlock device installed on the subject vehicle (because this is often the only way a person may be able to lawfully drive the vehicle away from police custody), the State is required by the vehicle forfeiture law to allow access to an ignition interlock vendor to install the device. This requires coordination with the State prosecuting attorney and arresting agency.

Another condition that the owner should expect is that the State has the ability to ask for bond or cash in an amount equal to the “retail value” of the vehicle. You can imagine how much the State is taking advantage of this ambiguous language as to the proper valuation of the vehicle. Unfortunately, to get the vehicle returned as soon as possible, the only option is to pay the value (or a bond) as determined by the State. Some negotiation may occur, but it is not always easy and can take some time – which many people don’t have when they don’t have a vehicle.

Once the owner has the vehicle back, there are a few conditions the owner must abide by in order to avoid the vehicle forfeiture permanently. Remember, the vehicle forfeiture civil lawsuit is stayed so long as the owner is enrolled in the ignition interlock program. While the owner is enrolled in the ignition interlock program, they must abide by the law, not have any ignition interlock violations, or otherwise fail to complete the ignition interlock program. If there is a violation, then the State may proceed with the vehicle forfeiture – by either forfeiting the actual vehicle or the cash/bond in its place.

Finally, the owner is subject to these conditions for a specific period of time – exactly how long is up for debate. The new law states that once the owner completes the ignition interlock program, then the stayed forfeiture matter is dismissed. This can be as little as two years, depending on the circumstances. But, the law is ambiguous because it also states that a violation of the stay can occur within three years. Predictably, the State is latching onto this three years language and demanding that the stay of the vehicle forfeiture lawsuit be for three years, even if the owner only needs to have the ignition interlock device for two. 

As you can see, numerous issues exist with the new law that require a skilled vehicle forfeiture attorney to negotiate and/or demand the return of your vehicle. But, the good news is that you can now get your vehicle back, even if it is subject to vehicle forfeiture. 


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