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Yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued one of the most anticipated opinions regarding DWI laws this term. The high court determined whether MN’s DWI forfeiture law was unconstitutional on its face; was unconstitutional as applied to the innocent owner of the vehicle; and was unconstitutional as applied to the driver of the vehicle.

The court decided the DWI forfeiture law is constitutional on its face and as applied to the driver of the car. But the court did determine the statute is unconstitutional as applied to the innocent owner of the Lexus. To navigate its way through these constitutional analyses, the court argued about whether to apply the Mathews factors[1]or the Barker test[2]to a due process challenge in a forfeiture case.

The Procedural Due Process Claim

MN’s DWI forfeiture statute, Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subd. 9(d), requires that a hearing be held on the forfeiture within 180 days of the petition challenging the vehicle forfeiture is filed. However, a hearing will not be held until the underlying criminal case is resolved. Because many criminal cases with forfeitures are serious matters (First and Second Degree DWI cases), the criminal proceedings will often extend past 180 days. Thus, are the drivers and owners of forfeited vehicles in DWI cases afforded due process, procedurally?

As Applied to the Olsons

The Olsons are not the typical DWI forfeiture case. Usually, the driver of the car owns the vehicle the state forfeits. Here, the driver – Megan Olson – is not the owner of the vehicle. Her mom – Helen Olson – owns the Lexus. Because Helen was not privy to Megan driving her vehicle under the influence, Helen is an innocent owner in the forfeiture proceeding. This is important because the supreme court decided that the forfeiture statute is not unconstitutional as applied to Megan under the Mathews factors, but is unconstitutional as applied to Helen. The court reasoned, in part, that Megan did not have a particularly strong private interest in the vehicle while Helen did as the owner. There are additional factors under Mathews analyzed by the court, but the private interest seemed to tip the scales in deciding the two issues of unconstitutionally as applied differently.

Going forward, innocent owners can use this opinion as a primary weapon to combat DWI vehicle forfeitures. For the driver-owners of the forfeited vehicle, the supreme court did not close the door entirely on as applied procedural due process challenges, because that issue was not squarely before the court. But the court did set precedent on what framework to use for court’s analyzing that question – the Mathews factors.

Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense lawyer and DWI attorney in Minnesota. Super Lawyers named him a Rising Star for the past four years; The National Trial Lawyer’s Organization named him a Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer the past five years; and he is a member of the National College of DUI Defense. DWI Lawyer Woodbury; Vehicle Forfeiture Attorney Minnesota; and Minnesota DWI Lawyer.

[1]The Mathews factors include some of the following: the private interest at stake; the duration of the seizure and prompt, meaningful post-deprivation review; and hardship relief

[2]Under Barker, the court evaluates the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the person’s assertion of their rights, and prejudice to the person.

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