Pursuant to Minnesota Statute Section 169A.63, in certain DWI cases—as well as other alcohol-related driver’s license suspensions or revocations from other incidents—the arresting officer has the legal authority to seize and forfeit the vehicle involved.
Circumstances which make a Minnesota motor vehicle forfeiture legitimate and valid include:
- A fourth DWI within ten years and the current charge is for felony DWI (first-degree DWI)
- A third DWI or test refusal within ten years (second-degree DWI)
- A second DWI within ten years AND the driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20 or greater OR was driving with a child under the age of sixteen (16) in the vehicle
- The current charge is for any type of DWI or test refusal and the defendant is driving on a license canceled for being inimical to public safety
- The current charge is for any type of DWI or test refusal and the driver has a B-Card restriction prohibiting the use of any alcohol/drugs
If the arresting officer determines that the vehicle in question is, indeed, subject to seizure and forfeiture, s/he can seize it immediately and maintain possession until after the legal proceedings conclude. In order to actually take possession of the vehicle, the officer issues a Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit to the driver and anyone else with an ownership interest.
If the driver who is facing charges of DWI is not the vehicle in question’s registered or legal owner, for the seizure and forfeiture to be valid, the owner must have known—or should have known—of the intended and/or unlawful use of said vehicle. If the owner was not aware that the defendant would be driving his/her vehicle illegally, then the owner can file for return of the vehicle. To do so, the owner has thirty (30) days to file for a judicial determination of the forfeiture in order for the court to determine the forfeiture’s legality. This hearing is similar to an Implied Consent Hearing when a driver is facing having his/her driver’s license canceled, revoked, or suspended.
Of particular importance is that in order for the arresting law enforcement agency to take the final step in the forfeiture action, the defendant must be convicted of the offense and/or have his/her driver’s license revoked. In other words, if the driver/owner is not convicted of the alleged crime, the arresting agency cannot retain possession of the vehicle in question.
Arresting Agency Discretion to Seize/Forfeit Vehicles
In some situations, the arresting officer may choose not to seize and forfeit a vehicle even if s/he has the legal authority to do so. This usually occurs if the vehicle has little to no equity value due to it not being worth much in the first place or if there is a loan against the vehicle. In the latter situation any existing loan will be first paid off with any proceeds from the vehicle’s sale and, in some situations, not enough equity is left to make it worth the arresting agency’s while to pursue the forfeiture process. In other cases, the police department may seize and forfeit the vehicle and then sell it back to the owner at a reduced price.
License Plate Impoundment
Closely related to the concept of vehicle forfeiture is license plate impoundment. Pursuant to Minnesota Statute Section 169A.60, an arresting officer—acting for the Commissioner of Public Safety—has the authority to remove the license plates from a vehicle and impound them. These situations include:
- A first DWI with a BAC of .20 or greater
- A first DWI if a child under 16 was in the vehicle at the time of arrest
- Any DWI if the driver has a prior one or alcohol-related driver’s license revocation or suspension within ten (10) years
- A previous violation of driving without a valid license after having been canceled as inimical to public safety pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 171.24
Driving while intoxicated in Minnesota has significant criminal and administrative penalties, particularly for repeat offenders. For any questions or if you or a loved one is facing vehicle forfeiture or any other DWI-related charges, please contact us.