In a recent published opinion from the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Patino v. One 2007 Chevrolet, the Court held that for a vehicle forfeiture related to a DWI to be valid, the defendant must have been convicted of the underlying offense which led to the forfeiture in the first place.
Here, the appellant allowed her live in boyfriend to use her vehicle to go for a drive. The boyfriend was stopped once in early 2010 for erratic driving and driving after revocation and was ordered not to drive without a valid driver’s license. A little over a month later, appellant’s boyfriend was pulled over again, this time on a report of an impaired driver. When the Minnesota State Patrol stopped the car, they eventually arrested the boyfriend for second-degree DWI, child endangerment, driving with a BAC higher than .08, and driving after revocation.
As a result of this arrest, State Patrol notified the appellant they would seize the car. At that point appellant filed a petition asking for the court to intervene because her boyfriend had not been convicted of second-degree DWI, the designated forfeiture offense. The prosecution argued that the Court’s opinion in Mastakoski v. 2003 Dodge Durango, which held that the driver need not be convicted of a designated forfeiture offense as long as the driving conduct constituted the commission of a designated offense, should prevail. The district court ruled that because her boyfriend used the car to commit a designated offense and, even though he was never convicted of the second-degree DWI, appellant failed to show that she did not know her boyfriend could not use the car and, as a result, the State Patrol was entitled to seize the vehicle.
The issue before the Court of Appeals was whether the driver of a car subject to forfeiture needs to be convicted of a designated offense if the underlying conduct itself constitutes a designated offense. The Court rejected the prosecution’s argument and overruled Mastakoski, saying that because forfeiture is punitive in nature, they had to construe the language of the forfeiture statute in favor of the challenger, in this case, the appellant.
Dealing with Mastakoski, the Court said the case failed to address the Minnesota statute which, in summary, states that if a motor vehicle forfeiture is based on an individual being charged with a “designated offense” and the individual that is charged with the specific “designated offense” shows up for court, as required, but is not subsequently convicted of the offense, then the court must order that the motor vehicle be returned to the person with legal title.
The Court ultimately concluded that because the forfeiture was based on the second-degree DWI offense and appellant’s boyfriend appeared in court as required and was not convicted, the district court was required to order the car returned to the appellant in accordance with Minnesota state law.
If you have been arrested for a DWI and were subsequently served with a Notice of Intent to Forfeit your motor vehicle, you only have a specific number of days in which to challenge that forfeiture in order to obtain a judicial determination. Therefore, it is imperative that you contact a criminal lawyer immediately so important rights are not waived.
To read the full opinion, click here.