Understanding Vehicle Seizure & Forfeiture Laws for DWI in Minnesota

Cars lined up in parking lot

Receiving a DWI charge can be stressful enough, but what do you do when you also have to worry about getting your car back after a forfeiture or seizure? In some cases in Minnesota, being charged with a DWI can mean having your car seized by the arresting agency. So what are the specific situations that result in vehicle forfeiture and in the case this unfortunate event actually occurs, how do you get your vehicle back? Let’s explore.

Seizures vs Forfeitures

There are distinct differences between the two:

  • Seizures: Under Minnesota law, this is when the arresting agency takes possession of your vehicle. For more information on MN seizure laws for DWI, read statute 169A.63 Subd.2 (mn.gov).
  • Forfeitures: This is technically when the state takes ownership of the vehicle in question.

In most cases, vehicle forfeitures are only made when a repeated DWI infraction has occurred. In the following cases where you’ve been charged more than once, your vehicle can be seized and forfeited, according to FindLaw:

  • If it’s your third DWI offense in 5 years
  • If it’s your third DWI offense in 15 years and you’ve been charged for driving with a minor under the age of 16 in the vehicle
  • If it’s your third DWI offense in 15 years and you’ve been charged while driving with a BAC level of 0.20% or over
  • If it’s your fourth DWI offense in 15 years.
  • It’s your second DWI in 5 years and you’ve been charged for driving with a minor under the age of 16 in the vehicle

In more rare cases, it is possible to have your vehicle seized upon first-time offenses:

  • If you were using a driver’s license because you were determined to be “inimical to public safety.”
  • If your current driver’s license contains a B-Card restriction which prohibits you from alcohol consumption.

How Do I Get My Seized/Forfeited Vehicle Back?

If you’ve been charged with a DWI or DWI test refusal under the aforementioned circumstances, it is possible for the arresting authority to seize and issue a forfeiture notice for your vehicle. Law enforcement seizes your vehicle in circumstances where it can be used as evidence in a case against you. If this has occurred, it’s possible to challenge the forfeiture, as you’ll want your property returned to you as soon as possible. By filing a challenge, you’re technically asking for a judicial determination regarding the legality of the forfeiture. To protest the seizure and forfeiture, you’ll have to file a court form using one of the following options (forms made available via MNCourts.gov):

What If I Own the Vehicle But Wasn’t Driving It During the Offense?

In such cases, it’s important for vehicle owners who weren’t operating their vehicles during such driving infractions to consult criminal defense attorneys. In these cases, criminal defense attorneys are likely to mount what are known as “innocent owner defense” strategies.

If left unchallenged, forfeitures generally last as long as legal proceedings are taking place. Without a doubt, they can cause even more stress in already very stressful situations brought on by DWI accusations. With the right know-how and a good attorney, however, it is possible to get your vehicle returned to you as soon as possible. In any case, an experienced attorney can help you understand MN forfeiture laws for DWI.

Has your vehicle been seized/forfeited under Minnesota DWI law? Consult attorney Joel Heiligman today.