MN DWI Forfeiture Law May Cause Permanent Loss of Your Vehicle

Minnesota DWI forfeiture law allows law enforcement to forfeit vehicles from certain DWI offenders (see Minn. Stat. 169A.63). Permanent loss of a vehicle used in a DWI offense is a huge consequence.

Defeating or Reducing Forfeiture with DWI Charges

There are several possible ways to defeat or reduce a charged DWI offense that allow an owner to get the vehicle back. The law also provides that when a DWI offender does not own the vehicle it will not be forfeited if the owner can demonstrate the owner did not have knowledge that the vehicle would be used in a manner contrary to law. But the courts have held the innocent owner defense is not available to a vehicle’s joint owner when the offender is the other co-owner.

Forfeiture When Husband and Wife are Co-Owners of a Vehicle in MN

That ruling was based on a case where a husband and wife were co-owners of a vehicle. After the wife was convicted of DWI her husband argued the vehicle had both of their names on the title, but it was actually his vehicle and should not be forfeited from him because he didn’t know of his wife’s drinking or illegal use of vehicle so he was an innocent owner. The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed, and ruled the vehicle could be forfeited from the husband because his wife was the co-owner and she was the DWI offender. See  Laase v. 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe.

Proposed Amendment in MN: SF151

There is a continuing effort underway in the Minnesota Legislature to remedy that problem. The Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed a proposed amendment to the law (see SF151) that provides any owner in a joint ownership situation who can demonstrate that he or she did not have knowledge the vehicle would be used in a manner contrary to law could get the vehicle back. The bill is still in the legislative process so we must wait to see if the amendment ultimately gets signed into law.

If you or someone you know needs advice about a DWI vehicle forfeiture, I can help. As an experienced Minnesota criminal defense attorney, I understand that legal problems don’t always happen during ordinary office hours.

If you are facing a legal problem and need to talk with a lawyer right now, call me for a free consultation: Bill Sherry 952-423-8423 .