MN Supreme Court holds Driving While Inoxicated forfeiture law Unconstitutional for ‘innocent owner’
Vehicle Forfeiture Law Decision
In 2015, a woman was arrested in Scott County for her fourth DWI. Under Minnesota’s DWI vehicle forfeiture law, Minn. Stat. § 169A.63,this meant the car she was driving could be seized and held for forfeiture. But she did not own the car – it belonged to her mother, who claimed she was an ‘innocent owner.’
There is a provision in Minnesota’s DWI forfeiture law that is supposed to protect innocent owners from losing their cars. But the law also states:
If the offender is a family or household member of any of the owners who petition the court and has three or more prior impaired driving convictions, the petitioning owner is presumed to know of any vehicle use by the offender that is contrary to law.”
Additionally, under the DWI forfeiture law, a hearing on who has a lawful claim on the vehicle cannot be held until the DWI case is resolved – which took 18 months in this case.
The district court and the Minnesota court of appeals both held that that 18 months was too long for an innocent owner to have to wait to be heard. A divided Minnesota Supreme Court agreed, holding that such a delay, without the opportunity to be heard, deprives innocent owners of due process.
In its decision, Megan Ashley Olson v. One 1999 Lexus, the Court acknowledged that the government’s interest in keeping drunk drivers off the road was valid even though the mother was not the person driving while impaired. The Legislature has recognized that an owner’s possible failure to prevent othersfrom driving under the influence was an important consideration in determining whether forfeiture is appropriate.
However, the Court found that because the vehicle was not seized based on the ownerdriving it while impaired, this meant that the government’s interest in keeping repeat DWI offenders off the road carried less weight with respect to the mother.
The Court also found that the DWI forfeiture statute provided no opportunity for a hearing in district court where the mother could argue that she was an innocent owner until the criminal charges against her daughter were resolved. Without any meaningful opportunity for a hearing that allows an innocent owner to present evidence supporting his or her claim, there was also no way to speed up the hearing process.
Most critically, the Court found, the DWI forfeiture statute provided no assessment whatsoever—let alone a reliable assessment—that the government had the legal authority to permanently take the vehicle of an innocent owner (like the mother).
If you find yourself in a legal situation involving DWI vehicle forfeiture, you need a criminal defense attorney with deep legal knowledge and a willingness to fight on your behalf. At Halberg Criminal Defense, our team approach puts the firm’s collective knowledge and experience in your court. Our attorneys are available 24-7 — Call us at (612)-334-3342
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