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MInnesota Criminal Defense Lawyer | Did Police Seize your Vehicle? Legislation May Prohibit Forfeiture

Minnesotans: temperatures are finally inching up. You can see grass peeking out of the thawing dirt. We’re all turning off our fireplaces and gleefully packing up our winter clothes. Meanwhile, the city’s restaurants and bars are cautiously setting out patio furniture and preparing for the busy season ahead.Springtime is here. Those of us who have been cooped up all winter with cabin fever are about to let loose on all of our favorite after-work joints to grab a beer or a cocktail and catch up with friends while enjoying a warm breeze.While you and the rest of Minneapolis celebrate these happy rites of spring, police are gearing up a busy season of their own – a busy time of year for drunk driving arrests. Criminal Defense lawyers in Minnesota are also gearing up to defend.

With more folks on the streets than the prior months combined, officers keep their eyes on the roads, just waiting to spot a driver under the influence and turn his or her springtime upside down with a DWI charge.

We often look ahead in the spring towards what the new warmer weather will bring: concerts in the park, street festivals, and more keep our minds busy as we push through our 9-to-5’s. By the time you’re out the office door and into our neighborhood bar, you’re probably not thinking about how much you’re drinking: You’re thinking of all those fun times ahead, the new cocktail list, the seasonal draft beers, and the company of your friends. Sure, maybe you’re a little tipsy by the time you leave the bar, but it’s 7:30 and the sun’s still out—the night is young and you’re full of pent-up energy! Maybe you’re looking down at your phone to text your friend about your next pit-stop on the drinks route when you swerve over into another lane. Just like that, the police lights are in your rear view mirror. You can bet the contagious optimism of spring hasn’t caught onto the police officer who just caught you breaking the law.

What to Expect When you’re Not Expecting a DWI 

The vast majority of clients have no clue what to expect in the days that followed. And why would they? Many  are fine, upstanding, law abiding citizens—and when you don’t break laws, you have no reason to learn the consequences of doing so. However, the consequences of a DWI conviction in Minnesota can be life-altering—and can cost you thousands of dollars if not more in damages. If you’ve been waiting all winter for this bright, sunny weather, you can be sure that the last thing you want is to wind up sitting in a jail cell wondering what’s about to happen to your livelihood. And that’s why you need the best criminal defense lawyer in Minnesota.

An expert in DWI defense will help you clarify your case, the penalties, and what can be done to help you keep as much normalcy in your life as possible. We can help you navigate this trying time in ways you may have never considered prior to your charge. This article will focus on a part of the law that you might not know about—but can have huge repercussions on your post-charge life – Minnesota’s vehicle forfeiture laws. If it sounds dry, keep reading: you might just save yourself tens of thousands of dollars in new car expenses down the line, and thanks to a new case handed down from the Minnesota Supreme Court in March, your DWI charge may just have a different fate than you expected.

The 411 on Minnesota’s Vehicle Forfeiture Laws: It’s about Public Safety

The attorneys at Gerald Miller Law Firm can’t begin to count how many times they’ve had a new client walk into their office and say, “I had to take an Uber here. When they charged me with a DWI, they took my car! How is that legal?” We can understand their anger and frustration—without a conviction, it seems awfully suspect that a police officer can simply take your property from you. Not only can cars be worth tens of thousands of dollars, they’re also absolutely critical for any of us who make the commute from the suburbs to downtown every day. Without a car, it can feel like your life has truly fallen apart.

You should understand the law around these issues, because as you’ll see, it is in fact totally legal under certain circumstances for a police officer to take away your car after a DWI charge. The reason they give for being allowed to do so is simple: this is a matter of public safety, and if you’ve proven you cannot be trusted to operate a vehicle, it will be confiscated, period, until you make arrangements to try to get it back. Be forewarned: the recent Minnesota Supreme Court case related to vehicle forfeiture demonstrated that it can take up to 18 months before you are in possession of your car again… if you are able to be successful.

Minnesota law explicitly states that your vehicle can be seized by an arresting agency if the vehicle was used to commit a crime—and that includes Driving While Intoxicated. Certain criteria must be met in order for a police officer to seize your car and that’s why it’s important to contact a criminal defense attorney in Minnesota. Let’s review them one by one:

1) Your car can be seized if you are arrested for a first-degree DWI offense. If you were arrested for a DWI and already have three or more impaired driving incidents on your record within the last ten years, or if you were arrested for a DWI and have previously been convicted of a felony DWI or another felony related to operating a vehicle while under the influence, your arresting officer can legally seize your car according to Minnesota law.

2) Your car can be seized if you are arrested for second-degree DWI offense. You will face this charge if your DWI arrest and prior record demonstrates two of three “aggravating factors” as outlined below—or if your DWI involves an implied consent test refusal and one of the three aggravating factors below. Aggravating factors include having a prior impaired driving conviction on your record or a license revocation within the past 10 years, having an alcohol concentration of .16 or higher at the time of your arrest, having a passenger under the age of 16 in your vehicle at the time of your arrest, or if you refuse to submit to chemical testing. So, while most vehicle forfeitures happen after multiple DWI arrests, it can still happen after just the first offense you have ever had if the aggravating factors are present. To make this clearer, here is an example: If you are pulled over and you blow a .25 on the breath test—and you have your 9-year-old daughter in the backseat—the officer can legally seize your car. To give you another example: If you refuse a breath test and have been previously convicted of a DWI within the last 10 years, the officer can legally seize your car. If the case has 2 or more aggravating factors present, in addition to the current offense, then a 2nd degree DWI is charged. And that is why they can seize your vehicle.

3) Your car can be seized if your license has been cancelled for reasons related to public safety, or if your license requires you abstain from any alcohol (this is referred to as a “B-Card”.)

Now, if your car has been seized by the police, you have just 60 days to file a challenge to that forfeiture—and if you don’t file exactly as specified, you waive your right to challenge the forfeiture at all. The police can then claim ownership of your vehicle, and can sell it for profit, leaving you without a vehicle and without your money. If this sounds scary, it is. There were almost 8,000 legal vehicle forfeitures in 2017 alone. Of that number, less than a quarter of DWI-related forfeiture cases were challenged by the owner. That’s a lot of people out of a car—and a lot of money flowing into the police departments’ coffers. Forfeitures happen all the time in this state—and this fact makes your choice of a criminal defense lawyer in Minnesota to help you fight these charges all the more important.

The determination of forfeiture, however, does not take place until after you’ve been officially convicted—or acquitted—from your DWI charge. And that can take months, if not years. You’ll be out of a car that entire time. Does that seem fair? One recent plaintiff in a Minnesota Supreme Court Case didn’t think so—and her case may just have a massive impact on forfeiture laws in the future.

Olson V. One 1999 Lexus: Can The Police Really Take My Car?

There’s been a real push for reform when it comes to Minnesota forfeiture laws in recent years—and one recent case served as the latest legal blow to these questionable laws. In 2015, Megan Olson was arrested in Minnesota for her fourth DWI in 10 years. The car she was driving was seized by police. There was just one problem—it wasn’t actually her car… it was her mother’s. Megan and her mother Helen hired a good attorney who helped them file a claim for a judicial determination. Once this claim is filed, the statute indicates that a hearing on that forfeiture should be held within 180 days. However, if there is still a pending criminal case against the driver, the forfeiture hearing has to wait until that criminal case is completely finished.

If you don’t think that makes a whole lot of sense, you’re not alone. Megan’s DWI case kept getting pushed back, month after month, and was ultimately not determined until 18 months after her case. She was finally convicted, and her mother was out of a car, even though she had nothing to do with her daughter’s mistake!

The Minnesota Supreme Court ultimately determined that Megan’s rights were not violated. DWI cases regularly take months to be decided, and the police officer was acting under the law when he seized the vehicle she was driving—because this was her fourth DWI-related arrest in 10 years, the balancing act used in that case determined that the state’s interest outweighed hers. Her mother’s rights, however, were violated. She owned the vehicle and the Court determined that forcing her to wait for 18 months to get her car back—or not—deprived her of her due process. She should have been given a hearing within a more reasonable standard of time.

Megan was convicted—but her mother got her car back after a long and ultimately illegal wait. This is good news for everyone who may be subject to forfeiture laws in the future. Let’s investigate why with a criminal defense lawyer in Minnesota.

Hey, That’s My Property! How Forfeiture Reform Might Save You Thousands of Dollars

Why is it that when it comes to the seizure of property, individuals charged with a crime are guilty until proven innocent when in every other case it’s the other way around? Furthermore, if a police agency has the potential to make a profit off every car they seize, how does that support fair treatment to those individuals charged?

You and I aren’t the only ones asking those questions. Several other states have already passed legislation related to forfeiture reform, and Minnesota is finally following suit. Two bills have been introduced to the Minnesota legislature that would work to limit forfeiture and protect the due process rights of everyone involved. HF 1971 and SF 2155 would eliminate administrative forfeiture—if passed, it would no longer be legal for any arresting agency to seize your car upon arrest. Now, it would still be possible for you to lose your car if convicted, but until that time, your car would remain under your ownership.

These bills would also make it so people like Helen never lose their cars unjustly again. In the meantime, however, do yourself a favor and seek a top-notch criminal defense lawyer in Minnesota for your DWI case today. Hiring the right attorney could mean the difference between losing your car and keeping it.

A Success Story from Criminal Defense Lawyer in Minnesota You Should Know About

We are proud of a case we handled that made a huge difference to a grieving mother. The woman, who lives in Minnesota, was arrested for drunk driving not long after her son, a military veteran, had been killed in the war overseas. Gerald Miller Law Attorney Kyle Dreger took the case and learned that police had seized the vehicle. The car had previously belonged to the woman’s now dead son. It was the only piece of him that she had left.

Our client didn’t know what to do. Above all else, she wanted the vehicle back. We worked hard, going over every detail of her arrest and did our due diligence. Ultimately, after contesting the illegal stop of her vehicle, the criminal case against her was completely dismissed. And with the charges dismissed, the client got the car back! The arrest will never be on her record. She was free to grieve and move on with her life in peace.

Protect your Assets—Hire an Attorney at the Gerald Miller Law Firm

The clients who come to see us have enough to worry about—they don’t need to be burdened by learning every letter of the law on top of the stress and worry a DWI charge can cause them and their loved ones. We all make mistakes—and drinking and driving can be a costly one. But you can and should minimize those costs by working with a criminal defense lawyer in Minnesota who can help you file the right paperwork if your vehicle was seized and can help see you through the complex judicial system that awaits you.

We’ll handle your DWI worries so you can relax. Spring is a wonderful season—and you should enjoy it while it lasts.

About Gerald Miller Law Firm  

A drunk driving citation in Minnesota is known as a DWI, which stands for driving while impaired. Many states refer to the charge as a DUI, short for diving under the influence.

A Minnesota BWI stands for boating while intoxicated.

Regardless of what authorities call it, a police officer can arrest someone on suspicion of DWI even if he or she hasn’t been drinking. In Minnesota, “impaired” can be applied to a person who is taking legal prescription drugs or even someone who is overly tired. It’s all up to the discretion of the arresting officer.

Sound like you or someone you know? Contact the experienced Minnesota DWI attorneys Gerald Miller Law Firm. Our expert team will look at your case and determine the best course of action. We will guide you through the process, working toward a positive outcome no matter the circumstances of the arrest.

We are often asked, “Should I contest this case?” Yes. You should, absolutely, positively 100 percent of the time. Every arrest is different; few are open and shut cases. We look at every aspect of the case, from time of the arrest to the officer’s actions to the accuracy of your Breathalyzer test. There is always hope.

What makes Gerald Miller different from other criminal defense lawyers in Minnesota?

The Minneapolis lawyers at Gerald Miller handle all aspects of criminal law across the Twin Cities and statewide – the team can defend you on traffic citations, drug charges, theft, weapons charges, probation and parole violations and more – but they have focused on DWIs for decades. A DWI affects your driving ability, your finances and your professional reputation. Don’t let one mistake hinder a promising future.

Call the attorneys at Gerald Miller Law Firm today at 612-440-4610. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to give you some answers, a little hope and plenty of well-deserved peace of mind.

You can email us here. We can also be reached on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Instagram.

About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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