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Defenses of Minnesota's Vehicle Forfeiture Law and DWI Offenses

Minnesota Statute section 169A.63 relates to vehicle forfeitures authorized by law where the driver has engaged in unlawful conduct related to DWI/DUI offenses and the vehicle was used in the commission of the offense. The term “offenses" refers both to DWI criminal convictions and alcohol-related driver’s license revocations arising from separate incidents.

Under Minnesota Statutes, a motor vehicle used in a DWI/DUI offense may be seized and forfeited by the arresting agency under the following circumstances:

a.) The current offense is the 3rd offense within 10 years and the driver is now charged with DWI or test refusal.

b.) The current offense is the 2nd offense within 10 years and the driver is now charged with DWI with a child under the age of 16 present, or driving with an alcohol level of 0.20% or more.

c.) The current offense is the fourth offense within 10 years and the driver is now charged with felony DWI.

d.) The driver is charged with any form of DWI or test refusal while the driver’s license is under cancellation for being inimical to public safety.

e.) The driver is charged with a DWI or test refusal while the driver’s license is subject to a B card, a restriction prohibiting consumption of any amount of alcohol or controlled substance.

There is a presumption that a vehicle is subject to forfeiture if:

(1) the driver is convicted of the designated offense on whichthe forfeiture is based;

(2) the driver fails to appear for a scheduled court appearance and fails to voluntarily surrender within 48 hours after the time required for appearance; or

(3) the driver’s conduct results in a designated license revocation and the driver does not seek timely judicial review or judicial review is upheld. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7.

Once a vehicle has been seized and a forfeiture notice provided, the Municipality seeking the vehicle forfeiture may retain possession until the underlying criminal or civil proceeding resulting in the seizure has been concluded in its favor.

To challenge any forfeiture, a vehicle owner MUST file an action in Court within thirty (30) days of receiving the forfeiture notice. The action will seek a JUDICIAL REVIEW as to whether the Municipality properly applied the law to the forfeiture action.

If the vehicle is $7,500 or less, an action may be filed in small claims court, called conciliation court in Minnesota, where the forfeiture took place. If its value is greater than $7,500, an action must be filed in District Court.

There are many defenses to a forfeiture action. Certainly prevailing in the underlying case resulting in the vehicle forfeiture is a defense and the vehicle must be returned to the owner immediately if the person charged with committing the designated offense appears in court and is not convicted of the offense, or the license revocation is rescinded under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9. Other defenses may apply related to the identity of the vehicle’s true owner, and their knowledge regarding the vehicle’s use. If the owner of the vehicle was not the driver committing the violation, the vehicle may be saved if the owner can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated unlawfully or that the owner took reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle by the offender.

If the offender is a “family or household member" and has three or more prior impaired driving convictions, the owner is presumed to know of any vehicle use by the offender that is contrary to law (including but not limited to a violation of driving without a valid license, failure to produce proof of insurance, driving restrictions, DWI, underage drinking and driving, and open bottle law). If the driver is the owner or a co-owner, the vehicle may be subject to forfeiture even if a joint owner was unaware that the vehicle would be used for an unlawful purpose.

Additionally, vehicles that are subject to a security interest or a long-term lease agreement are subject to those interests unless the secured party or lessor had knowledge of or consented to the action on which the forfeiture is based and did not take reasonable steps to terminate use of the vehicle by the offender under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7.

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