Forfeiture of Motor Vehicles and Recreational Vehicles Used to Commit Impaired Driving Offenses
Minnesota’s impaired driving law provides a special forfeiture procedure applicable to motor vehicles and recreational vehicles (such as snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and motorboats) used to commit certain alcohol-related traffic offenses.
This law authorizes the forfeiture of a motor vehicle or recreational vehicle used to commit one of the following:
- a first- or second-degree DWI offense. A person is guilty of a first-degree DWI offense if the person: (1) violates DWI law within ten years of the first of three or more qualified prior impaired driving incidents; or (2) violates DWI law and has previously been convicted of a felony DWI or felony criminal vehicular operation while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A second-degree DWI offense includes those that involve two or more “aggravating factors,” or an implied consent test refusal and one “aggravating factor.” “Aggravating factor” means: (1) having a prior impaired driving conviction or license revocation in the past ten years; (2) having an alcohol concentration of 0.20 or more at the time of the offense; or (3) having a passenger under the age of 16 in the vehicle at the time of the offense.5
- a DWI offense committed by a person whose driver’s license has been canceled as “inimical to public safety” and not reinstated
- a DWI offense committed by a person whose driver’s license has been limited by the Commissioner of Public Safety to require that the person abstain from the use of alcohol or drugs (commonly referred to as a “B-card”)
A person’s vehicle also may be forfeited under this law based on a license revocation instead of a criminal conviction, if it is preceded by two or more prior impaired driving convictions or license revocations within the previous ten years. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 1, paras. (d) and (e).
A motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture if it was used in the commission of a designated offense or used in conduct resulting in a designated license revocation. There is a presumption that a vehicle is subject to forfeiture if: (1) the driver is convicted of the designated offense on which the forfeiture is based; (2) the driver fails to appear for a scheduled court appearance and fails to voluntarily surrender within 48 hours after the time required for appearance; or (3) the driver’s conduct results in a designated license revocation and the driver does not seek timely judicial review or judicial review is upheld. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7.
If the owner was not the violator, the vehicle is not subject to forfeiture if the owner can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated unlawfully or that the owner took reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle by the offender.6 If the offender is a “family or household member” and has three or more prior impaired driving convictions, the owner is presumed to know of any vehicle use by the offender that is contrary to law (including but not limited to a violation of driving without a valid license, failure to produce proof of insurance, driving restrictions, DWI, underage drinking and driving, and open bottle law). In addition, vehicles that are subject to a security interest or a long-term lease agreement are subject to those interests unless the secured party or lessor had knowledge of or consented to the action on which the forfeiture is based and did not take reasonable steps to terminate use of the vehicle by the offender. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7.
The forfeiture may be affected either through administrative forfeiture or judicial action. These administrative and judicial processes are essentially the same as those provided under the general forfeiture law described in part 1. However, in an administrative hearing, the claimant must file a demand for a judicial hearing within 30 days of service (instead of 60 days). The demand must be filed with the court administrator and served on both the prosecuting attorney and the appropriate agency. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 8. The vehicle must be returned to the owner immediately if the person charged with committing the designated offense appears in court and is not convicted of the offense, the license revocation is rescinded, or the vehicle owner can demonstrate that he or she did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the offense. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 9.
If a vehicle is forfeited under this section, the vehicle must either be sold or kept by the local law enforcement agency for official use. If the proceeds do not equal or exceed an outstanding loan balance on the vehicle, the agency must remit all sale proceeds (minus storage and sale expenses) to the secured party.7 If a vehicle is sold, the net proceeds must be distributed as follows:
- 70 percent to the law enforcement agency for use in DWI-related enforcement, training, and education
- 30 percent to the prosecuting agency
Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 10.
Forfeiture of Motor Vehicles and Boats Used to Commit Game and Fish Offenses
Minnesota law authorizes conservation officers to seize and forfeit any property, motor vehicle, or boat used to commit certain violations of the game and fish laws.
For example, a conservation officer has the power at any reasonable time to inspect premises and motor vehicles requiring a license under the game and fish laws. The officer must seize unlawfully possessed firearms and must seize any items used to illegally take game if no owner of the items can be identified. These items are subject to an administrative forfeiture process, not a judicial one.8
The officer also may confiscate any wild animals, wild rice, prohibited invasive species, or other aquatic vegetation that have been unlawfully taken or possessed as well as any equipment having a value under $1,000 that was used to commit the violation. Boats and motors with trailers used to take, possess, or transport wild animals when the animal’s restitution value exceeds $500, may also be seized by an officer.
Furthermore, conservation officers must seize and seek judicial forfeiture of any:
- motor vehicles used illegally to shine wild animals, to transport big game or fur-bearing animals that have been illegally taken or purchased, or to transport minnows illegally; and
- boats and motors used to net fish illegally on Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, Lake Superior, Namakan Lake, or Sand Point Lake.
The law outlines a confiscation and judicial forfeiture process applicable to persons convicted of these game and fish law violations. This process is similar to that contained in the general forfeiture law described in part 1 for “designated offense” forfeitures, except that proceeds from the sale of forfeited motor vehicles, boats, and motors are credited to the game and fish fund in the state treasury. Minn. Stat. §§ 97A.215 to 97A.225.
Forfeiture of Off-Highway Vehicles
Minnesota law authorizes a law enforcement officer to seize and forfeit an off-highway vehicle if it was used in the commission of certain wetland crimes.
Upon a repeat gross misdemeanor violation for operating an off-highway vehicle in a careless manner and recklessly upsetting the natural and ecological balance of a wetland or public waters wetland, a law enforcement officer may seize an off-highway vehicle used in the commission of the offense. The forfeiture provisions under section 84.7741 are similar to those for DWI violations except that any sale proceeds must be distributed as follows:
- 70 percent to the seizing agency for use in purchasing equipment for off-highway vehicle enforcement, training, and education
- 30 percent to the prosecuting agency Minn. Stat. §§ 84.774; 84.7741.
Forfeiture of Gambling Devices, Prizes, and Proceeds
A separate forfeiture law applies to persons convicted of various gambling offenses. According to this law, the following property is subject to forfeiture:
- illegal gambling devices
- money and property used or intended for use as payment to participate in gambling or a
- prize or receipt for gambling
- books, records, and research products used or intended for use in gambling
- property used or intended to be used to illegally influence the outcome of a horse race
The law outlines a judicial forfeiture process applicable to persons convicted of gambling violations. This process is similar to that contained in the general forfeiture law described in part 1 for “designated offense” forfeitures, except that proceeds from the sale of forfeited property are shared equally by the law enforcement and prosecuting agencies. Minn. Stat. § 609.762.
Forfeiture of Property Associated with Racketeering Crimes
Minnesota law provides a unique criminal forfeiture procedure applicable to persons convicted of a “racketeering” crime.
A person is guilty of a racketeering crime if the person is employed by or associated with an enterprise and intentionally conducts or participates in the affairs of the enterprise by participating in a pattern of criminal activity. The law defines “pattern of criminal activity” to encompass only certain serious crimes and to require that at least three of these criminal acts must have occurred within the ten years preceding the racketeering prosecution. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.902; 609.903.
When a person is convicted of racketeering, the court is authorized to order the forfeiture of any real or personal property used in, intended for use in, derived from, or realized through the racketeering conduct. This forfeiture procedure differs from the other forfeiture procedures found in Minnesota law because it is not a separate civil in rem proceeding; rather it is an in personam criminal forfeiture penalty applied by the court in addition or as an alternative to the other criminal sanctions available, such as fines and imprisonment.9 Once property has been ordered forfeited by the court, the prosecutor may dispose of the property or forfeiture sale proceeds in a manner similar to that provided for “designated offense” forfeitures under the general forfeiture law. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.905; 609.908.
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.
4 This section does not include any discussion of property forfeiture due to tax law violations.
5 See Minn. Stat. §§ 169A.24; 169A.25.
6 In 2009, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that, in the case of joint ownership of a vehicle, all owners must be innocent in order for any owner to employ the innocent owner defense. Laase v. 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, 776 N.W.2d 431 (Minn. 2009). See part IV.
7 A secured party may elect to foreclose on the loan and sell the vehicle at its own foreclosure sale. If so, that sale process replaces the forfeiture sale process. The secured party is subject to certain limits and must reimburse the law enforcement agency for its seizure, storage, and forfeiture expenses. After paying its costs and satisfaction of the lease or lien, the secured party must forward any proceeds that remain to the state treasury for credit to the appropriate fund. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 11.
8 Seizure and administrative forfeiture may be appealed if the owner requests a hearing within 45 days after the seizure.