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Defenses to DWI Vehicle Forfeitures

Defenses to DWI Vehicle Forfeitures

Minnesota DWI’s have a number of harsh “collateral” consequences, like: loss of driver’s license for a year on a first offense, license plates impoundment, and DWI vehicle forfeiture where the police try to keep your vehicle forever to punish you. To challenge these “collateral” consequences of a Minnesota DWI, you must file a Petition in Court within 30 days of being arrested; IF NOT then your car can be forfeited, even if you are found not guilty.

DWI Vehicle Forfeiture can happen for a number of different reasons. The two most common are (1) when an individual is charged with 2nd Degree DWI or(2) 1st Degree DWI. Once the person is served with a piece of paper titled “NOTICE OF INTENT TO SEIZE AND FORFEIT VEHICLE,” the individual has 30 days (60 days as of August 1, 2012) challenge the DWI vehicle forfeiture.  If this challenge is not made within the time limit, and the proper parties are not served in the specific methods mandated by statute, then the individual loses his right to challenge the forfeiture of the vehicle.  The best vehicle forfeiture defense to a vehicle forfeiture is to win the DWI criminal case. If the individual challenges the forfeiture and is found not guilty, then the forfeiture should be dismissed and the vehicle returned to the driver. However, even if the individual isn’t found not guilty of all charges, the vehicle, or a large chunk of money, can still be returned to the individual. Less common challenges to forfeiture include:

 1. The “Innocent Owner” Defense.

If the owner of the car was not the driver, then the owner may be able to present the “innocent owner” defense.” Generally speaking, this defense applies if the owner of the car did not know the arrested driver would be operating the vehicle in any unlawful manner.  The innocent owner bears the burden of proving that he or she did not know the arrested driver would be operating the vehicle in an unlawful manner.

However, the innocent owner is now also available in one notable circumstance: joint-ownership of the car. If two people, such as a husband and wife, are the joint owners of the car, and the husband gets a DWI without his wife’s knowledge, then the wife can NOW be classified as an innocent owner, due to a recent change in the law. Previously, the Minnesota Supreme Court had said that under joint ownership, the owner of the car who didn’t commit the offense can’t raise the innocent owner defense. However, the Minnesota Legislature recently passed a new DWI vehicle forfeiture law which allows a joint or co-owner to raise an innocent owner defense.

Also, the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently held that the DWI vehicle forfeiture law is unconstitutional. Specifically, the Appellate Court held that the DWI Vehicle forfeiture law violates an owner’s right to due process due to the lack of a speedy hearing after the initial seizure of the vehicle.

2. The forfeiture statute violates a claimant’s due process rights.

The vehicle forfeiture statute does not permit a hearing on the forfeiture until the conclusion of the criminal case. In plain English, this means that you can’t come to Court and try to get the car back until the criminal case is concluded.  In many cases, the police will hold the car for over a year (or longer) before you can even get a hearing on the return of the vehicle. The substantial delay in a hearing has led some District Court Judges to conclude that the vehicle forfeiture statute is unconstitutional in cases argued by Keller Law Offices.  As a result, the seized car has been returned to the driver, even when the driver has been convicted of DWI.

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