Minnesota Supreme Court to Hear DWI Vehicle Forfeiture Case


The Minnesota Supreme Court has added a DWI vehicle forfeiture case to its October 3, 2018 Calendar. Olson, et al v 1999 Lexus, etc. is a high-profile law enforcement/criminal defense attorney showdown. It will likely draw the attention of criminal attorneys across the state and anyone who was ever forced to forfeit their vehicle to local authorities. The Supreme Court will address a vehicle owner’s right to a timely hearing and how the right to a prompt disposition affects the constitutionality of civil vehicle forfeitures.

The Minnesota vehicle seizure statute is a contentious law that allows officials to seize property even before the owner has been convicted of a crime. The law has a hearing provision that allows vehicle owners to plead their cases for the return of their vehicles. Unfortunately, the civil forfeiture hearing process is counter-intuitive to our ideas of innocent-until-proven-guilty. Instead of the court proving the authorities have the right to seize a vehicle, the vehicle owner has the burden of proof. They must prove that they have a legitimate defense to the forfeiture action.

In seizure and forfeiture cases, the local government often keeps the cars, sells them, and retains the profits. It’s a process the advocacy group Institute for Justice calls Policing for Profit. The group filed an amicus brief in support of the pending case

The Case

Minnesota’s highest court is another step in Mary Ashley Olson’s extended fight to recover her mother’s 1999 Lexus. It began on August 16, 2015, when the Shakopee, MN police arrested her for driving while impaired. She had three prior DWI convictions on her record, so the officer charged her with two counts of felony first degree DWI. A first degree DWI is a designated offense under 169A.63, Minnesota’s Vehicle Forfeiture Statute. The statute allowed the authorities to seize the vehicle at the scene as it was used during a criminal vehicular operation.

The 1999 Lexus belonged to Megan’s mother, Helen Olson, who is also named in the pending case. Under the forfeiture statute, Helen Olson could only recover her vehicle if she demonstrated that she didn’t know the car would be driven in any manner contrary to law. It’s been almost three years, and the Shakopee police department is still fighting to keep Helen Olson’s Lexus.

The Timeline

  • October 7, 2015 – Mary Ashley and Helen Olson’s attorney filed a Demand for Judicial Determination seeking to disprove the forfeiture’s validity.
  • Scott County District court postponed the determination hearing until the criminal court resolved the underlying criminal DWI cases.
  • District Court postponed the criminal trials six times, which also continued the forfeiture action.
  • May 6, 2016- the court ruled on Olson’s implied consent case and upheld her license revocation.
  • October 12, 2016 – Olson pled guilty to a first-degree felony DWI.
  • October 14, 2016 – Olson’s attorney filed a motion for summary judgment on the forfeiture action in Scott County District Court.
  • February 13, 2017 – Olson was officially convicted of a criminal DWI.
  • February 23, 2017- The District Court held a hearing to address the vehicle forfeiture summary judgment issues.
  • May 24, 2017 – The District Court ruled in favor of the Olsons and ordered the vehicle released.
  • May 24, 2017 – The court stayed the vehicle release pending appeal.
  • April 2, 2018 – Minnesota Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Changes to the Law

The Minnesota Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for the Olson case on October 3, 2018. In the meantime, the Minnesota legislature is attempting to revamp the vehicle forfeiture statute. While they haven’t finalized the wording, if they work out the details HF 3725 will become law. In theory, the new statute will eliminate the profit potential in the current law and implement protections for innocent forfeiture victims.

Fight to Keep Your Vehicle

If the Police Department has seized your vehicle, don’t wait to contact Rogosheske, Rogosheske & Atkins. Our attorneys believe that the Minnesota civil forfeiture law is an unfair process that could change your life. We will do everything within our power to fight for your legal rights. Call us at 651-413-9004 or complete our online contact form. We’ll get back to you right away to arrange a free consultation.

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