Effective July 1, 2019, Minnesota’s new DWI vehicle forfeiture law (Sec. 4, Subd. 13) went into effect and now favors vehicle owners. This law is a game changer in the current forfeiture climate in that drivers will be able to get their vehicles back if they agree to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle before the forfeiture procedure is finalized.
Prior to this law, anyone whose vehicle was forfeited under the DWI law would be required to negotiate the vehicle’s return either with the prosecutor or challenge the forfeiture in court which has been known to take significant time and money.
Earlier this year, we reported on a case wherein an innocent vehicle owner lost her vehicle for 18 months while her daughter’s criminal case was concluded. This new law seeks to continue the push toward more legislative leeway in certain DWI vehicle forfeiture cases to limit the hardship on certain vehicle owners, typically first-time offenders and innocent owners.
What has changed?
The previous forfeiture law was quite harsh, giving law enforcement considerable latitude in seizing vehicles, even those of innocent owners who may not have known that their vehicles were used to commit DWI.
With this new law, a DWI vehicle owner facing forfeiture has 60 days from the date of the incident to challenge the forfeiture in court. Then, if s/he does, in fact, challenge the forfeiture, the entire process would be stayed until the court case is finalized, thus giving the owner additional time to enroll in the IID program to get his/her vehicle back in a timelier manner.
Of primary importance is that the DWI defendant must be accepted into the IID program and be an active participant in said program before the forfeiture is finalized. If the driver violates the program, then the forfeiture action would proceed. Once the driver successfully completes the program, then the forfeiture action is dismissed in court.
Granted, getting one’s vehicle back is not a walk in the park. In some cases, prosecutors may require the driver to post a bond of security for the retail value of the vehicle before s/he can begin using it with the IID. In other cases, the prosecution may require the driver remit towing, seizure, and storage costs before the vehicle is released.
Of course, in some cases, the individual may not have the ability to pay a security or bond or they may decide to let an older vehicle go; however, in most cases, by simply installing an IID in their vehicles, they have the option to get their vehicle—and even their driver’s licenses—back.
The bottom line
Because the vehicle owner has only 60 days from the date of forfeiture notice to challenge the forfeiture in court and get accepted into an IID program, it is imperative to seek legal advice as soon as possible to ensure the best possible outcome.