DWI Forfeiture: An Innocent Owner's $10,000 Mistake

Posted On August 18, 2010 by Daniel Koewler

Among the many decisions recently issued by the Minnesota Court of Appeals was the troubling case of Van Note v. 2007 Pontiac, A09-2311. This case is a perfect example of why our vehicle forfeiture laws are so absurd, and why the first thing you need to do when charged with a DWI is find a knowledgeable attorney.

In the Van Note case, the driver was arrested for 2nd degree DWI while driving his girlfriend's vehicle. The driver was not on the title . . . the vehicle was not registered in his name . . . and yet the State immediately seized the vehicle for forfeiture.

The State made a half-hearted effort to notify the actual owner (the driver's girlfriend) that it had every intention of keeping her 2007 Pontiac G6 (with a bluebook value well over $10,000). Eventually, the innocent owner tried to convince the court to return her vehicle by filing a petition for review. However, because the girlfriend of the driver convicted of a DWI didn't file the appropriate paperwork within the correct period of time, the Court of Appeals basically told her "tough luck.|

So, because this innocent vehicle owner did not understand the complex laws surrounding vehicle forfeiture, the State gets to sell her vehicle for profit, even though the law requires the State to return the vehicle to her!

This type of situation happens far too often. In the traumatic and often shame-filled period following a DWI arrest, many people do not take the immediate steps they need to in order to preserve their rights. Because we work every day hammering the State on all aspects of a DWI case, we would have immediately recognized that the innocent owner defense applied, and filed a prompt petition for review. In the end, our client should have gotten her vehicle back. Instead, she's in the market for a new vehicle . . . and out a lot of money.