What You Should Know About Minnesota Vehicle Forfeitures and DWIs

Minnesota has among the strictest DWI/DUI laws in the country. From steep criminal sanctions to administrative penalties, motorists in the state should familiarize themselves with the laws, especially those related to motor vehicle forfeitures due to drunk driving.

In some Minnesota DWI cases, the arresting agency has the legal authority to seize and forfeit the vehicle involved. Pursuant to Minnesota Statute Section 169A.63, applicable offenses justifying a vehicle seizure and forfeiture include DWI’s and other alcohol-related driver’s license revocations due to failure to submit to a blood alcohol concentration test or any other alcohol-related incident.

Offenses Where a Vehicle May be Seized/Impounded

Motor vehicles used in DWI offenses may be seized and forfeited under the following conditions:

  • The driver is charged with a third DWI or test refusal offense within ten years (second degree DWI)
  • The driver is charged with a second DWI offense within ten years with the current charges including DWI with a child under 16 present and/or driving with a BAC of .20 or greater (second degree DWI)
  • The driver is charged with a fourth offense within ten years and is currently charged with felony (first-degree) DWI
  • The driver is charged with any DWI or test refusal offense while the his/her license has been canceled for being inimical to public safety
  • The driver is charged with any DWI or test refusal while his/her driver’s license is subject to a B-card restriction that prohibits consumption of any alcohol or controlled substance

Seizing a Vehicle

Law enforcement officers may legally and immediately seize a vehicle and maintain possession while legal proceedings are pending. The seizing agency must issue a Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit the vehicle to the driver, as well as to anyone else who has an ownership or possessory interest in the vehicle. The driver/owner then has 30 days from being given the Notice to file a Demand for a Judicial Determination as to the legality of the forfeiture.

Demand for Judicial Determination

This type of hearing is used to determine the legal validity of a seizure and forfeiture and is similar to license plate impoundment hearings. For the forfeiture proceedings to continue, the suspect must be convicted of the crime for which s/he was arrested and/or have had his/her driver’s license revoked.

Innocent Owner Defense

In some cases, a vehicle forfeiture occurs where the vehicle’s owner is not the offending driver. In these cases where the driver does not own the vehicle, the vehicle is only subject to forfeiture if the owner knew/should have known that the driver would be using it unlawfully. If the owner was unaware, in some cases the arresting agency will simply release the vehicle to him/her. More likely, as there is no automatic right of return, the owner must prove that s/he did not know the offender would operate the vehicle against the law and/or took reasonable action to prevent its use in violation of the law.

Circumstances When a Vehicle Won’t be Seized and Forfeited

In some cases, the arresting agency has the legal authority to decide not to seize and forfeit a vehicle. This commonly occurs if the vehicle has little or no equity value which can occur with an older vehicle or one that has a loan against it as the forfeiture is subject to the loan. In most cases, equity less than $1,000 negates any forfeiture attempts. In other cases, the arresting agency may even negotiate the sale of the vehicle back to the original owner.

If you or a loved one are facing motor vehicle forfeiture for a DWI-related charge any other DWI offense, or for more information, please contact us.