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Published: 2008-03-26

Minnesota Vehicle Forfeiture



In some DWI cases the arresting agency has the legal authority to seize and forfeit (keep and/or sell) the motor vehicle involved. Vehicle forfeiture is covered by Minnesota Statute section 169.1217. For the purposes of this law, "offenses" includes both DWI offenses and alcohol-related driver's license revocations arising from separate incidents. The motor vehicle used in a DWI offense may be seized and forfeited by the arresting agency under the following circumstances:

  1. The current offense is the 3rd offense within 5 years and the driver is now charged with DWI or test refusal.
  2. The current offense is the 4th offense within 15 years and the driver is now charged with DWI or test refusal.
  3. The current offense is the 2nd offense within 5 years and the driver is now charged with DWI with a child under the age of 16 present, or driving with an alcohol level of 0.20% or more.
  4. The current offense is the 3rd offense within 15 years and the driver is now charged with DWI with a child under the age of 16 present, or driving with an alcohol level of 0.20% or more.
  5. The driver is charged with any form of DWI or test refusal while the driver's license is under cancellation for being inimical to public safety.
  6. The driver is charged with any form of DWI or test refusal while the driver's license is subject to a restriction prohibiting consumption of any amount of alcohol or controlled substance (B-Card restriction).

If the arresting agency concludes the vehicle is subject to seizure and forfeiture under this law, they can seize it immediately and keep possession of it while any legal proceedings are pending. The arresting agency must issue a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit the vehicle to the driver of the vehicle and to anyone else who may have an ownership or possessory interest in the vehicle.

A motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture under this law only if its owner knew or should have known of the unlawful use or intended use of the vehicle. If the driver is the owner, or one of joint owners, this is not an issue. But if the vehicle is owned by someone else who had no knowledge that the driver would use it to violate this law, the owner has a good legal argument against the forfeiture action. Under these circumstances the arresting agency sometimes voluntarily returns the vehicle to the owner. If not, the owner must take the appropriate legal action to request the return of the vehicle.

WITHIN 30 DAYS FOLLOWING SERVICE OF A NOTICE OF SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE UNDER THIS STATUTE, A CLAIMANT MAY FILE A DEMAND FOR A JUDICIAL DETERMINATION OF THE FORFEITURE. Again, this demand for a hearing to determine the legality of the forfeiture must be made within 30 days to be effective.

As with vehicle license plate impoundment, a hearing to determine the legal validity of a vehicle seizure and forfeiture is very similar to an Implied Consent Hearing, and is often combined with an Implied Consent Hearing. Before the arresting agency can take the final step in the vehicle forfeiture action, the accused driver/owner must either be convicted of the alleged criminal offense or have his driver's license revoked under the Implied Consent law, or both. Thus, if the accused driver/owner can successfully defend against the criminal charges and the license revocation, the vehicle forfeiture can be avoided. Anyone facing a vehicle forfeiture should review the "Possible Defenses" section of this website and discuss the specifics of their case with an experienced defense attorney.

There are circumstances where the arresting agency has the legal authority to seize and forfeit a vehicle, but decides not to do so. This usually happens when the vehicle has little or no equity value. The law specifies that if there is a loan against the vehicle, the forfeiture is subject to the loan. This means that if the arresting agency forfeits the vehicle and sells it at auction, the proceeds must first be used to pay off the loan balance, and any money left over can go to the appropriate government agency. If there is a loan on the vehicle and the balance due on the loan is high compared to the value of the vehicle, going through the necessary legal proceedings for forfeiture does not make economic sense for the arresting agency. The same thing is true when the vehicle just isn't worth very much. In such cases, the attorney representing the arresting agency may direct the police department to impound the plates from the vehicle then return the vehicle to its owner, or may negotiate the sale of the vehicle back to the registered owner at a reduced price. An attorney representing the vehicle owner may be able to arrange the return or repurchase of the vehicle by negotiating with the prosecuting attorney and presenting him or her with information regarding the vehicle's value and any loan balance.