General Forfeiture Law in Minnesota | What Can Be Forfeited?

Judicial Forfeiture; Designated Offenses

Minnesota law permits a court to order the forfeiture of certain property associated with the commission of a “designated offense.”

The definition of “designated offense” includes most serious felonies against persons, a number of property felonies, and felony or gross misdemeanor violations of the crime of unauthorized computer access. It also includes the gross misdemeanor crime of carrying a rifle or shotgun in a public place and certain prostitution crimes, regardless of the penalty prescribed for the violation. Minn. Stat. § 609.531, subd. 1. The term does not include controlled substance offenses, however. These offenses are governed by the special forfeiture provisions described in the next section. (See the appendix for a complete list of the crimes included within the definition of “designated offense.”)

Property is subject to forfeiture if it was either: (1) personal property used or intended for use to commit or facilitate the commission of a designated offense; or (2) real or personal property representing the proceeds of a designated offense. Additionally, all contraband property is subject to forfeiture as is any weapon used or possessed in furtherance of any criminal code violation, controlled substance offense, violation of chapter 624, or violation of a domestic abuse order for protection. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.5312; 609.5316, subd. 3.

Property associated with a designated offense (other than weapons and contraband) may be forfeited by judicial order, following a civil in rem proceeding. Minn. Stat. § 609.5313. The government has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture. The fact that a designated offense was committed may be established only by proof of a criminal conviction. Minn. Stat. § 609.531, subd. 6a. The law also provides certain defenses for innocent common carriers, innocent owners, and innocent secured parties. “Innocent” in this context means that the party neither knew of, consented to, or was involved in the act or omission giving rise to the forfeiture. The existence of a security interest must be established by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.5312; 609.5319.

Judicial Forfeiture; Controlled Substance Offenses

Minnesota law also provides for judicial forfeiture of property associated with controlled substance (i.e., illegal drug) offenses.

This procedure is identical to the judicial forfeiture procedure for designated offenses with the following exceptions:

  • the fact that a controlled substance offense was committed must be established by clear and convincing evidence, however, the government does not need the fact of a criminal conviction to satisfy this evidentiary burden
  • a “conveyance device” (i.e., a motor vehicle) used to commit the controlled substance offense is forfeitable only if the retail value of the drugs is $75 or more and is associated with a felony-level offense
  • real property associated with the controlled substance offense is forfeitable not only when it represents the proceeds of the offense but also when it is used in the commission of the offense; however, forfeiture of such property in the second instance is permitted only if the retail value of the controlled substance is $2,000 or more

Minn. Stat. §§ 609.531, subd. 6a; 609.5311.

Seizure of Property in Advance of Forfeiture

Minnesota law permits a law enforcement agency to seize forfeitable property in advance of its forfeiture.

The seizure may be made under process issued by any court having jurisdiction over the property. The law also authorizes seizure without process under the following circumstances:

  • the seizure is incident to a lawful arrest or a lawful search
  • the property has been the subject of a prior judgment in favor of the state in a criminal injunctive or forfeiture proceeding
  • the appropriate agency1 has probable cause to believe that the delay required to obtain court process would result in the property’s removal or destruction and that the property is either dangerous to health or safety or was used or is intended to be used to commit a felony

When property is seized, an officer must provide a receipt to the person found in possession of the property or leave a receipt where the property was found. The seizing agency must use reasonable diligence to secure the property and prevent waste. Minn. Stat. § 609.531, subds. 4, 5.

The owner of the seized property may give security or post a bond in an amount equal to the property’s retail value and, thereby, regain possession of the property. If this is done, the forfeiture action proceeds against the security as if it were the seized property. This option is not available if the property is contraband or is being held for investigatory purposes.

Alternatively, if the seized property is a motor vehicle, the owner may regain possession of the vehicle pending determination of the forfeiture action by surrendering the vehicle’s certificate of title to the seizing agency. The agency must notify the Department of Public Safety and any secured party noted on the certificate that this has occurred and must notify them if and when the certificate of title is returned to the owner. Minn. Stat. § 609.531, subd. 5a.

Seizures of motor vehicles used to commit certain prostitution crimes or used to flee from a pursuing peace officer are governed by more restrictive provisions.2 These provisions apply to the seizure of vehicles from persons alleged: (1) to have engaged in or hired another to engage in prostitution; or (2) to have fled from a peace officer in a manner that endangered life or property. If such a vehicle is seized before a judicial forfeiture order has been issued, a hearing must be held before a judge or referee within 96 hours. Notice of the hearing must be given to the registered owner within 48 hours of the seizure.3 The prosecutor must certify to the court before the hearing that he or she has filed or intends to file charges against the alleged violator. After the hearing, the court must order the motor vehicle returned to the owner if the prosecutor fails to certify that charges have been filed or will be filed in the case, the owner has demonstrated that he or she has a defense to the forfeiture, or the court has determined that seizure of the vehicle would create an undue hardship for members of the owner’s family. If a seized vehicle ultimately is not forfeited, neither the owner nor the alleged violator is responsible for seizure and storage costs. Minn. Stat. § 609.5312, subds. 3, 4.

Administrative Forfeiture; Controlled Substance Offenses

Minnesota law contains a separate, nonjudicial procedure for forfeiting certain property seized in connection with a controlled substance offense.

This administrative forfeiture law creates a presumption that the following property is subject to forfeiture:

  • all money, precious metals, and precious stones found in proximity to controlled substances, forfeitable drug manufacturing or distribution equipment, or forfeitable records of drug manufacture or distribution
  • conveyance devices containing controlled substances with a retail value of $100 or more if possession or sale of the drugs would be a felony-level controlled substance crime
  • all firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories found: (1) in a conveyance device used or intended for use to commit a felony drug offense; (2) on or in proximity to a person from whom a felony-level amount of drugs was seized; or (3) on the premises where drugs were seized and in proximity to the drugs, if the possession or sale of the drugs would be a felony offense

Administrative forfeiture procedures may only be used if the property involved does not exceed $50,000.

The law enforcement agency is permitted to seize the property immediately and must send a notice to all persons known to have an ownership, possessory, or security interest in the property within 60 days of the seizure. The notice must state that the property will be forfeited unless the property claimant files a demand within 60 days for a judicial forfeiture hearing. If the demand is filed, the judicial forfeiture procedures must be followed and a hearing must be held within 180 days of filing the demand. If no demand for judicial forfeiture is filed, the property is forfeited. Minn. Stat. § 609.5314.

Administrative Forfeiture; Drive-by Shooting Offenses

Minnesota law also contains a separate, nonjudicial procedure for forfeiting motor vehicles used to commit a “drive-by shooting” offense.

The “drive-by shooting” offense imposes felony penalties on any person who recklessly discharges a firearm at or toward a person, vehicle, or building while in or having just exited from a motor vehicle. Minn. Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1e. A motor vehicle used to commit the drive- by shooting offense is subject to administrative forfeiture if the prosecutor establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the motor vehicle was used to commit the crime. The prosecutor does not need the fact of a criminal conviction to meet this burden; however, if the vehicle owner was convicted of a drive-by shooting offense, that fact creates a presumption that the vehicle was used in the violation.

As is true of other types of administrative forfeitures, this law permits the immediate seizure of the property and, unless the owner demands a judicial forfeiture proceeding, the forfeiture of the vehicle without any further hearings. However, this law differs from other administrative forfeiture laws in the following ways:

  • notice of a vehicle seizure must be given within seven days of the seizure
  • if criminal charges are filed in connection with the drive-by shooting incident, the 60-day period during which the owner may demand a judicial forfeiture proceeding begins to run at the conclusion of the criminal proceeding instead of when the seizure notice is sent
  • the “innocent owner” defense does not apply if the owner was grossly negligent in allowing the vehicle to be used by another

Minn. Stat. § 609.5318.

Summary Forfeitures

Minnesota law permits seizing agencies to summarily forfeit certain property without going through any judicial or administrative proceedings.

The types of property included in this provision are:

  • contraband property; i.e., property that is illegal to possess under Minnesota law. This property must either be destroyed by the agency or used for law enforcement purposes;
  • police radios used to commit or attempt to commit a felony or to flee a peace officer in a motor vehicle
  • schedule I controlled substances that are illegally sold or possessed, or that are seized by peace officers and of unknown ownership; and species of plants from which controlled substances in schedules I and II may be derived that are growing wild, of unknown ownership, or lack appropriate registration;
  • weapons used or possessed in furtherance of a criminal code violation, a controlled substance crime, a violation of chapter 624, or a violation of a domestic abuse order for protection, upon the owner’s or possessor’s conviction for one of these crimes;
  • firearms used in any way during the commission of a domestic assault or stalking crime;
  • bullet-resistant vests worn or possessed during the commission or attempted commission of a criminal code violation or controlled substance crime, upon the owner’s or possessor’s conviction for one of these crimes; and
  • telephone-cloning paraphernalia (materials capable of creating a cloned cellular telephone) used to commit a cellular telephone-counterfeiting crime.

The law also provides that weapons, bullet-resistant vests, and telephone-cloning paraphernalia used in a crime may, instead, be judicially forfeited without proof of a conviction for the underlying crime. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.2242, subd. 3; 609.5316; 609.749, subd. 8; 609.856, subd. 2.

Conciliation Court Jurisdiction

The conciliation court has jurisdiction to determine certain forfeiture claims that do not exceed $15,000.

If a claim does not exceed $15,000 and involves money or personal property subject to forfeiture under section 609.5311 (controlled substance offenses); 609.5312 (designated offenses); 609.5314 (administrative forfeiture for certain controlled substance offenses); or 609.5318 (drive-by shootings), the claimant may file a demand for judicial review in conciliation court instead of district court. The determination of claims in conciliation court must be without jury trial and by a simple and informal procedure. The filing fee in conciliation court is $65 as compared to $310 in district court. In administrative forfeiture actions where the property is worth less than $500, the claimant does not have to pay the conciliation court filing fee.

Minn. Stat. §§ 357.021; 357.022; 491A.01, subd. 3; 609.5314.

Forfeiture Sales; Distribution of Forfeiture Proceeds

Minnesota law provides various formulas for the disposition of forfeited property.

The property may be sold if it is not otherwise required by law to be destroyed and is not harmful to the public; it may be kept for official use by the law enforcement and prosecuting agencies; or it may be forwarded to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. If the forfeited property is a firearm, the law enforcement agency has the following options:

  • if the firearm is an antique, the agency may sell it at a public sale
  • if the firearm is an assault weapon, the agency must either destroy it or keep it for official use
  • if the firearm is neither of the foregoing, the agency may destroy the firearm, keep it for official use, or sell it to a federally licensed firearm dealer

The law also provides that if the Hennepin or Ramsey county board disapproves of the sale of forfeited firearms, the local sheriff must comply with that directive.

Before administratively forfeited property may be sold, a county attorney must certify that: (1) an evidence or seized property receipt was provided; (2) the seizing agency served timely notice of the intent to forfeit; and (3) probable cause for the forfeiture exists.

Property may not be sold to an employee of the seizing agency or to an employee’s family member.

If property representing proceeds of a designated offense is sold, the proceeds must be applied first, to satisfy valid liens and forfeiture sale expenses and second, to pay court-ordered restitution. If other forfeited property is sold, the proceeds also must be used first to satisfy valid liens and forfeiture sale expenses. The remaining sale proceeds from both types of property are distributed according to the following formula:

  • 70 percent to the law enforcement agency
  • 20 percent to the prosecuting agency
  • 10 percent to the state general fund

A special formula applies to the distribution of proceeds from the sale of vehicles forfeited for prostitution violations. In these cases, proceeds are distributed as follows:

  • 40 percent to the law enforcement agency
  • 20 percent to the prosecuting agency
  • 40 percent to the city treasury for distribution to neighborhood crime prevention programs

A special formula also applies to the distribution of proceeds from the sale of property forfeited for trafficking of persons. In these cases, proceeds are distributed as follows:

  • 40 percent to the law enforcement agency
  • 20 percent to the prosecuting agency
  • 40 percent to the commissioner of public safety for distribution to trafficking crime victim service organizations

Each law enforcement agency or the prosecutor must give a written record of each forfeiture incident to the state auditor. The report must be made monthly and include the amount forfeited, the statutory authority for the forfeiture, the date of the forfeiture, a brief description of the circumstances involved, and whether the forfeiture was contested. The report also must include the number, make, model, and serial number of firearms seized by the agency. For DWI and drug forfeitures, the report must indicate if it was initiated as an administrative or judicial forfeiture. Finally, the report must indicate how the property was disposed or if it was returned to the property owner. The state auditor must, in turn, report annually to the legislature on the nature and extent of forfeitures during the preceding year.

These reporting requirements apply to the following types of forfeiture: game, fish, and wetland violations (motor vehicles, bows, and firearms only), DWI, gambling, racketeering, and general forfeiture under chapter 609. Minn. Stat. § 609.5315. See also Minn. Stat. §§ 84.7741, subd. 13; 97A.221, subd. 5; 97A.223, subd. 6; 97A.225, subd. 10; 169A.63, subd. 12.

Residential Rental Property; Drug Seizures

A special forfeiture procedure applies to residential rental property on which contraband or a controlled substance with a retail value of $100 or more is seized pursuant to a lawful search or arrest.

Under these circumstances, the county attorney must notify the landlord and the owner of the seizure. The landlord must then either initiate eviction proceedings against the tenant on whose premises the property was seized or assign the eviction right to the county attorney. If the landlord does neither and there is a second occurrence involving the same tenant within one year, the rental property may be judicially forfeited. However, the property may be forfeited only if the value of the controlled substances is $1,000 or more, or there have been two previous seizures of drugs valued at $100 or more involving the same tenant. Minn. Stat. § 609.5317.

CREDIT: The content of this and any related posts was adopted or copied from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department’s publication, Minnesota’s Forfeiture Laws, written by legislative analyst Rebecca Pirius.

This post is also part of a series of posts on Minnesota’s Forfeiture Laws

1 See appendix for the definition of “appropriate agency.” This publication will use the terms “seizing agency” and “law enforcement agency” in lieu of “appropriate agency.”

2 In 2003, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that a vehicle forfeiture for fleeing a peace officer is governed exclusively by Minnesota Statutes, section 609.5312, subdivision 4, and as a result, a defendant may not seek possession of the vehicle by surrendering its title before the forfeiture action is determined. Gaertner v. One 1999 Dodge Pickup Truck, 668 N.W.2d 25 (Minn. Ct. App. 2003).

3 These time limits do not apply to the seizures of recreational vehicles or motorboats allegedly used to flee a peace officer.