DWI Forfeiture Defense
Getting convicted of a DWI carries stiff penalties, including potentially going to jail, being placed on probation, being fined, and losing your driver's license. But for some people, all of that pales in comparison to the penalty of having your personal vehicle seized by the State. Besides a person's home, their vehicle is likely their most prized, most expensive, and most useful possession. Losing that can, in some cases, be much more difficult to overcome than anything else.
Dealing with a DWI vehicle forfeiture can be nerve wracking, confusing, and frustrating. But we're here to help. Whether the State of Minnesota is seizing your boat, your SUV, or your classic car, there are a variety of ways we can get it back for you.
What Triggers a DWI Vehicle Forfeiture
Law enforcement can only seize a vehicle for forfeiture if the driver of the vehicle was arrested for a "designated offense." The list of designated offenses is laid out in detail in the forfeiture law itself, but can broadly be broken down into a couple basic categories:
-"B-card" Violations (no use of alcohol restrictions)
A vehicle forfeiture is most common after a driver has several prior DWI offenses on their record, but under certain circumstances even a first-time DWI offender can have their vehicle forfeited.
Consequences Of Having a Vehicle Forfeited
The biggest consequence for having your vehicle forfeited is pretty obvious: you lose the vehicle, and have to buy a new one, rely on public transportation, or get really good at biking in Minnesota winters. The State will usually sell the vehicle at auction, and split the cash between the arresting agency and the prosecutors office. That hurts, but there can be other consequences as well.
If you don't outright own the vehicle, and are making payments to the bank, the State will usually return it (or the auction proceeds) to the bank -- and then then bank can turn around and make your life even more miserable. Even though you no longer own the vehicle, you may still have to make payments to cover the difference between the auction price and the outstanding loan value. Worse, the bank may report the forfeiture as a "repossession," and tank your credit score.
Defending a DWI Vehicle Forfeiture -- Judicial Review
Whether the seized vehicle is a car, a boat, or some other mode of transportation, the process for protecting your rights (and credit score) is the same. We've got 60 days to file a petition in court demanding judicial review of the seizure. Miss that 60 day deadline, and say goodbye to the vehicle, even if the criminal charges get dismissed.
But once a judge is assigned to review the forfeiture, a variety of defenses can be raised. Some of the more common defenses are:
-Innocent owner. If the driver of the vehicle is not the owner/if the owner of the vehicle was not the driver, we can raise the "innocent owner" defense. It's a tricky defense to raise due to the complicated way that the defense is described in the forfeiture statute, but the defense is designed to make sure that the State isn't punishing people who should not be punished.
-Constitutional violations. A variety of challenges can be raised to underlying DWI arrest, or the procedure used to forfeit the vehicle. If the judge concludes that the initial stop of the vehicle was unconstitutional, or that the "Notice of Intent to Forfeit" was improperly served (these are just two examples) the whole forfeiture can be thrown out and the vehicle ordered returned.
-Resolution of the Criminal Case. The forfeiture case is entirely separate from the criminal case . . . mostly. But once you file a petition challenging the forfeiture, the State has to actually convict the vehicle's driver of a "designated offense" before they can keep the vehicle for good. So, if someone is arrested for, say, second degree DWI (because they had one prior DWI and refused to submit to testing) but are only convicted of third degree DWI (because the State fails to prove that the driver actually refused) the vehicle has to be returned -- third degree DWI is not a "designated offense." And this is just one easy example of the many ways that success in the criminal case can lead to success in the forfeiture case.
Fighting a DWI Vehicle Forfeiture In Minnesota
Some people just shrug their shoulders when they find out the State is going to forfeit their vehicle; sometimes it's not worth fighting over a $300 winter beater car. But other times, that vehicle is the only method of getting to work, or the vehicle represents a $40,000 investment, or that boat has dozens of summers' worth of memories attached to it.
Whether a forfeiture case is worth fighting heavily depends on the facts of the case, but if your vehicle has been forfeited, the best thing you can do is give us a call and let us help you decide the best way to help you through what is always a difficult and frustrating experience.