DWI Vehicle Forfeitures

Minnesota Defense Lawyer Helping Innocent Owners Keep Their Cars

The Law in Vehicle Forfeiture cases involving DWI ‘s and vehicle forfeitures: As an attorney, I have handled many vehicle forfeiture cases over the years and have also been involved with appeals to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. There is a presumption when a family member is involved, and the vehicle has been seized due to a repeat DWI that owner is “presumed to know” of any illegal vehicle use by the offender. See Minnesota Statute – 169A.63, subd. 7(d). The innocent owner can request a hearing within 60 days of the when he receives notice of the seizure and can request a hearing to challenge this forfeiture on the basis that he is an “innocent owner.” It is then up to the innocent owner to prove to the judge by clear and convincing evidence that he or she did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle was being used illegally which means in a manner contrary to the law.

So, the burden now then shifts to the innocent owner to prove that he did not know that his relative or household member was acting illegally on the night in question. Remember that vehicle forfeiture cases are civil cases so the State does not have as high a burden of proof as it does in a criminal prosecution. These cases often come down to a fact determination that is made by the judge. Basically, if the Judge believes that a vehicle owner was an innocent owner, then the Client wins the case and the vehicle is returned to him or her. If not, then the State gets to keep the vehicle and sell it at auction. The problem with selling the vehicle at auction is that there may still be a large outstanding loan on the vehicle that has to be paid off and the proceeds from the auction sale may not cover the entire loan payoff amount due to the bank. The owner is then, of course, responsible for repaying the entire loan balance even where the proceeds at the auction sale do not cover the entire loan amount due.

I have been very successful over the years with working out negotiated buy back settlements for clients where the vehicle owner agrees to pay a sum of money to settle the case, rather than take the case to a full hearing. I have also had good results when I have gone to trial in these cases and have let the judge decide whether the vehicle owner was actually an “innocent owner.” Of course, the result at trial will depend heavily on the facts of the case! But, if you are facing this situation, I can provide the appropriate advice to you about whether taking the case to trial is worth the risk.

Drug related vehicle and property forfeitures: Vehicles and other property can also be seized in controlled substance (drug) cases, and the law is quite similar to situations involving DWI’s. However, a different set of statutes applies to property forfeitures involving controlled substances, so there are some differences with DWI related forfeitures. Drug related forfeiture statutes and the limitations on such forfeitures are located at Section 609.5311 through 609.5314 of the Minnesota Statutes.

If you have a vehicle forfeiture case, do not hesitate to call Attorney Richard Ohlenberg to discuss the facts of your case! Remember that there is a 60 day time limit to request hearings in these cases, so do not wait.

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