Court: DWI vehicle forfeiture not subject to Minnesota exempt property law

A man was stopped in Minneapolis in April 2011 and ultimately charged with first-degree driving while impaired, a felony level offense in Minnesota. He reportedly pled guilty to the felony DWI in the criminal case. But as this blog has reported, a DWI case in Minnesota may also be accompanied by other legal action in civil court, if a defendant timely challenges the implied consent license revocation, or files a court challenge to an administrative vehicle forfeiture that can follow specified DWI arrests.

The civil suits have short time lines to perfect the civil court challenge. A Minnesota DWI lawyer may be able to explain the different procedures if a person acts quickly enough after a DWI arrest to contact legal counsel. The man arrested in Minneapolis in 2011 promptly filed a challenge in conciliation court in an effort to keep his car from the administrative forfeiture.

County attorneys later took the case to district court, which upheld the forfeiture, essentially allowing the state to take the car after he pled guilty to the qualifying felony DWI charge in the criminal case. The man appealed that ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The appellate court ruled Monday that the District Court judge properly found against the man, despite a 2008 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling barring the forfeiture of a home in a Minnesota drug crime case. That ruling held that the Minnesota Constitution and state exemption statutes barred the state from forfeiting the defendant’s home as a drug-asset homestead forfeiture associated with the alleged drug crime.

Monday the three judge appellate panel ruled that the 2008 high court ruling does not apply to cars forfeited in associated with DWI charges. The court reasoned that Minnesota law places a “special and long-settled heightened protection of homesteads.” The court refused to extend that level of protection to vehicles associated with a repeat DWI vehicle forfeiture action.

The ruling does not preclude other challenges to a vehicle forfeiture, nor does it deny a defendant a defense in the criminal DWI case. A Minnesota DWI defense lawyer can help a person accused of DWI to understand what legal challenges and defenses may be available in an individual situation.


Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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