The Minnesota Court of Appeals released a ruling earlier this week, Nielson vs. 2003 Honda Accord, that said if you drink and drive, repeatedly, the police are allowed to seize your car and keep it. Forever.
The case involved the appellant, a driver who was picked up in his 2003 Honda Accord by a Minneapolis police officer early last year. The appellant was found driving the wrong way down a one-way street. When the officer approached the vehicle, appellant appeared to be intoxicated, something that was later confirmed with the help of a urine sample which showed he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.23. He eventually pled guilty to DWI, the fourth such conviction for the appellant in only two years.
The Minneapolis Police Department notified appellant that they would be seizing his car pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.63. The appellant was obviously unhappy with the decision and appealed, claiming that the state’s constitution prevented the forfeiture of his vehicle without payment. Specifically, he cited Minnesota Statutes Section 550.37 which contains a motor-vehicle seizure exemption. The provision says that certain items of property cannot be attached, garnished or sold by creditors. This list includes Bibles, pews in a house of worship, phonographs and other personal items not exceeding $4,500 in value and, importantly, motor vehicles.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals disagreed with the appellant and ruled that any driver convicted of DWI in Minnesota can have his or her vehicle taken, for good. The Court said that the motor-vehicle exemption provision for creditors under state law does not limit the power of police organizations when it comes to seizing a repeat DWI offender’s vehicle. The statute is instead meant to ensure that a reasonably small amount of property is exempted from seizure for the payment of any debt. The Court said that it is clear that when legislators were drafting the law it was never intended to protect repeat DWI offenders from the loss of their automobiles. More than that, the Court held that the law does not require that Nielsen, or any other drunk driver, be compensated for the forfeited vehicle.
Motor vehicle forfeiture law as it pertains to Minnesota DWI law can be a rather complicated issue. With regard to any motor vehicle forfeiture relating to a DWI charge, there are several important rights that an individual has with regard to challenging the forfeiture of his or her vehicle. If you or someone you know has been served with a notice of intent to seize their motor vehicle by the State of Minnesota, then he or she has the right to challenge the forfeiture judicially(to have the matter decided by the court), but they only have a limited amount of time in which to file this judicial challenge. It is imperative that he or she contact an experienced criminal lawyer immediately to get advice.
To read the full opinion, click here.