Earlier this month, Minnesota DWI Forfeiture Attorney Max Keller successfully asserted an innocent owner defense in a Dakota County DWI Forfeiture case. As a result, his client’s vehicle was returned to her, the innocent owner.
When an individual is charged with 1st or 2nd degree DWI, the charging police agency can seize the vehicle for forfeiture. Seizure is possible even if the offender who commits the DWI is NOT the owner of the vehicle. That is, an inncent owner who lets his friend or relative borrow a vehicle can have the vehicle seized if his friend commits a 1st or 2nd degree DWI.
Some protection exists for this owner. Minnesota’s forfeiture statute allows for an “innocent owner” defense. Under the innocent owner defense, the owner of the vehicle must prove that she did not know the vehicle would be used in any unlawful manner. If this innocent owner can prove this by a preponderance of the evidence, then the vehicle is returned.
Max Keller’s recent forfeiture involved this innocent owner defense. In his case, the owner of the vehicle was a passenger in her own car. She was drunk, and had her (now ex) boyfriend drive her home. The owner thought her ex boyfriend was sober. The car was stopped by the police, and the boyfriend submitted to a preliminary breath test registering .11. At the station, he refused to submit to a test. Because he had one prior offense and refused to submit to a test, two aggravating factors were present and he was charged with 2nd degree DWI. Because he was charged with 2nd degree DWI, the owner’s vehicle was subject to forfeiture.
The owner hired Max Keller. Max filed a demand for judicial determination to contest the forfeiture. Max convinced the police department to return the vehicle to his client, the owner, while the offender’s criminal case was pending. The offender, who was represented by a different attorney, was convicted of 2nd degree DWI – test refusal.
Max proceeded to a contested hearing. His client, the owner, testified on her own behalf. Max later filed a brief on the matter. Ultimately, the Judge agreed with Max that his client was an “innocent owner.” The vehicle was ordered to be returned to his client, and his client was reimbursed for the filing fee.