Vehicle Forfeiture Law to be Reviewed by Supreme Court

The Minnesota Supreme Court will soon be reviewing Minnesota vehicle forfeiture law. The Minnesota Court of Appeals already considered Minnesota vehicle forfeiture law in a decision filed October 31, 2011. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that a Defendant charged with, but not convicted of DWI in which there is a vehicle forfeiture action is entitled to the return of the vehicle. The Minnesota Supreme Court granted review of the Court of Appeals decision on the matter, Laura Patino vs. 2007 Chevrolet.

In the Court of Appeals decision, Patino’s roommate was driving the vehicle when he was stopped by police and subsequently arrested for DWI. Patino was not in the vehicle at the time. Patino’s roommate was subject to forfeiture because he had a prior DWI and a child in the car, thereby enhancing the DWI charge to a 2nd Degree DWI and permitting the police to seek forfeiture of the vehicle under Minnesota State Law. Patino’s roommate was convicted of a 3rd Degree DWI, not the 2nd Degree charge. The issue the Court of Appeals considered was whether the forfeiture action was appropriate in light of the fact that Patino’s roommate was not convicted of the 2nd Degree DWI charges, nor did he have the required requisite designated previous offenses to invoke the vehicle forfeiture statute.

Under current Minnesota law, a vehicle is subject to forfeiture if the driver of the vehicle is facing charges of 2nd or 1st Degree DWI. Typically a 2nd Degree DWI charge involves two prior DWI offenses or two prior alcohol-related license revocations. However, a 2nd Degree charge can also come into play if there are enhancing factors. These include previous DWI offenses, but can also arise in cases of a test refusal, a child in the car, and/or a test result over 0.20. A first time offender can be charged with a 2nd Degree if two of the above are present. A 1st Degree DWI is a felony offense and occurs only if the driver has 3 prior designated offenses within a ten year period.

A person may also lose his or her car to forfeiture even if they are not driving. This can occur when the owner is presumed to know that the driver will not use the car lawfully, such as cases where the driver is a housemate and has 3 prior designated offenses. In addition, if the car owner is riding as a passenger in the vehicle with a driver who is facing charges of a 2nd or 1st Degree DWI, the car is subject to forfeiture.

In this case, since Patino was not in the vehicle at the time of the DWI offense, and she is not presumed to know that her roommate will be using the vehicle unlawfully, the only forfeiture issue the Minnesota Supreme Court will be reviewing will be whether a vehicle is subject to forfeiture if the driver is not convicted of the underlying DWI offense. As this issue involves the potential loss of substantial property, we can only hope that the Minnesota Supreme Court comes to the correct conclusion and upholds the Court of Appeals decision.

If you have been charged with a DWI, it is important that you speak to a Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney right away to ensure your rights are protected. Call Grostyan & Associates for a free consulation today.