New Minnesota Law Expands Innocent-Owner Defense to Joint-Owners

Residents of Minnesota who share ownership in a motor vehicle can now take advantage of an innocent joint-owner defense, thanks to a recent amendment to Minnesota law. Before the amendment, Minnesota was the only state that barred innocent co-owners from recovering their vehicle from a forfeiture caused by violating a designated offense.

Pre-2017 Law Example

In 2006, David Laase’s wife was arrested for a DWI. She plead guilty. As a result, Isanti County seized their jointly-owned 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe and moved to forfeit. It was David’s primary means of transportation. Laase proved his innocence, but the vehicle was still lost after lower-court appeals.

In 2009, the Minnesota Supreme Court also denied his claim.

In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals denied again, affirming the lower court’s decision.

Reason: forfeiture is automatic upon a determination that the owner committed a designated offense. Since Laase was the owner, the State reasoned that the innocent-owner defense didn’t apply.

Post-2017 Law

Bill SF 151 makes it possible for a jointly-owned vehicle that’s been involved in a 1st or 2nd degree DWI charge can be recovered by the innocent owner. For example, if a couple owned a truck jointly and one of them received a DWI, under the old law there would be no hope of getting the car back. Under the new law, a Minneapolis DWI lawyer can take recourse to recover the vehicle on behalf of the innocent co-owner.

Forfeiture Reforms

The majority of forfeitures in Minnesota are DWI and substance related, partially because of the 0.08 blood alcohol content limit and a zero tolerance policy.

Minnesota’s forfeiture reforms are keeping up with reforms across the country. Since 2014, nineteen states and Washington D.C., have reformed theirs and currently, twenty states are considering new legislation.

Bill S151

Bill S151 builds on previous reforms, such as the 2014 law that requires a criminal conviction before forfeiture. The new law is a welcome addition to Minneapolis DWI lawyers, but is not an end all. For one, there’s no incentive for some change, so the status quo persists:

  • The burden of proof still rests with innocent-owners.
  • 90% of forfeiture revenue goes into state coffers.
  • Small amounts of cash are seized.

It’s a good idea to remember that although language in the law can be a little tricky, a knowledgeable Minneapolis DWI lawyer will be able to make sense of it for you.

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.

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