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DWI Vehicle Forfeiture

Losing a vehicle after receiving a DWI is a very real, yet lesser known consequence. In 2000, Minnesota enacted a vehicle forfeiture statute to bolster “efforts to keep impaired drivers off the road, particularly those drivers who have shown a repeated willingness to drive while impaired.”[1] This statute allows the state to seize your vehicle when certain laws are violated: a “motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture under this section if it was used in the commission of a designated offense[2] or was used in conduct resulting in a designated license revocation[3].” Basically, First and Second Degree DWI, Driving After Cancellation Inimical to Public Safety, and a B-Card Violation (No use of alcohol restriction on your driver’s license) are the crimes subjecting a person to vehicle forfeiture.

Importantly, the state has the right to forfeit and possess your vehicle immediately upon arrest for a designed offense. The owner may recover the vehicle prior to the actual forfeiture action by providing security or posting bond. The vehicle will require a disabling device before being returned.[4] In practice, however, this rarely happens.

Upon seizure of the vehicle, the state must still undergo administrative procedures to initiate the actual forfeiture. Within sixty days of seizing the vehicle, the law enforcement agency must provide the owner with a notice of intent to forfeit the vehicle.[5] This notice must provide information on the vehicle as well as the right to judicial review.[6] The notice will also include an important warning: A lawsuit must be filed and the prosecuting party served within sixty days concerning the forfeited vehicle or the vehicle will be lost for good. After receiving notice, you have sixty days to file a lawsuit contesting the forfeiture.

The last step in forfeiture is a judicial determination of rights concerning the vehicle.[7] If the forfeiture is based on one of the designated offenses described above, then the owner of the vehicle must prove any affirmative defenses raised.[8] If the judicial proceeding results in upholding the forfeiture, the proper agency may use the vehicle for official use or sell the vehicle. If the vehicle is sold, none of the proceeds will go to the owner of the vehicle.[9] Obviously if the ruling is in the owner’s favor, the owner will recover the vehicle. It is important to note that even if the owner of a vehicle ultimately prevails; it could be months for the entire process to play out.

Remember, if you have had too much to drink the best decision is to not drive. If the unfortunate happens you commit a designated offense resulting in vehicle forfeiture, understanding the ramifications can make all the difference. It is possible to recover your vehicle in the short-term. Following the proper procedures to get your vehicle back is vital. Navigating the criminal law field is not easy, but the more you know, the better decisions you can make. You do not have to do it alone, qualified attorneys are ready to protect your rights and walk you through difficult challenges. For a free consultation, please contact Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC at 612-547-3199 or email ambroselegal@icloud.com.

Attorney Nathan Downing earned his law degree and certification in constitutional rights and remedies from the University of Denver. There, he was a member of his school’s Law Review. Nathan is a native Minnesotan and has recently returned to his home state to continue his legal career.

[1] State v. Wiltgen, 737 N.W.2d 561, 570 (Minn. 2007); Minn. Stat. § 169A.63.

[2] A designated offense includes first-degree driving while impaired under Minn. Stat. § 169A.24 or second-degree driving while impaired under Minn. Stat. § 169A.25. A vehicle can also be forfeited for driving while impaired under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20 when the driver was driving with a canceled license as inimical to public safety under Minn. Stat. § 171.04 subd. 1(10) or when the driver was subject to a no alcohol or controlled substance restriction under Minn. Stat. § 171.09; Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 subd. 6(a).

[3] Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 subd. 1(d) describes a designated license revocation as one involving a test refusal or failure under § 169A.52.

[4] Minn. Stat.  § 169A.63 subds. 3, 4.

[5] In other words, if the state seized your vehicle under the proper statutory authority, the moment the first-degree driving while impaired conduct occurred, they have sixty days, or ninety days for good cause, to inform you of their intent to forfeit the vehicle. Failure to provide proper notice will result in the vehicle being returned. However, under Minn. State § 169A.63 subd. 8(e) allows for the forfeiture proceeding to be recommenced at a later time.

[6] Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 subd. 8.

[7] Minn Stat. § 169A.63 subd. 9 lays out the judicial forfeiture procedure.

[8] Affirmative defenses are the reasons why the state should not be able to forfeit your vehicle. Part two of this blog series on DWI vehicle forfeiture will address the innocent owner defense.

[9] According to Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 subd. 10.

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