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Minnesota Supreme Court changes vehicle forfeiture rules

Here in Minnesota, police can seize a vehicle on the spot under certain circumstances. For instance, if police stop you for your third DUI offense within the last 10 years, they can take possession of your vehicle before even leaving the scene. Police can keep your vehicle until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings.

But what happens if someone was driving your vehicle and police seized it for that person's third DUI? Under state law, the seizure can occur if you knew that your friend or family member was going to do something illegal in it. The problem is you had no idea that someone you trusted with your vehicle was going to get behind the wheel after drinking. In fact, you weren't even there.

Can you get your vehicle back?

It might make sense for authorities to keep a vehicle owned by the individual facing DUI charges until the adjudication of the case, if he or she falls under one of the categories by which the seizure occurred. However, you are innocent. You weren't there and were not the one drinking and driving. What about your rights?

You do have rights. You can file a claim in order to demand a hearing to get your vehicle back, but you must file it within a certain amount of time. Otherwise, the state can keep and sell it. Once filed, a hearing must take place within 180 days of the request.

There used to be a catch

Until a recent decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court, the court could delay the hearing in which you should get your vehicle back for months or even years. In one case decided by the court, a woman drove a vehicle owned by her mother when police stopped her for suspected drunk driving. Since this was her third offense within 10 years, police seized the vehicle. The mother filed her claim within the statutory time limit but did not receive a hearing until approximately 17 months later.

Authorities relied on that portion of the vehicle forfeiture law that says the vehicle may remain forfeited until the criminal proceedings are over. The court ruled that doing so did not violate the daughter's rights, but it did violate the mother's rights since she was not the one facing charges. As the "innocent owner," she deserved a timely hearing regarding the return of her vehicle. The court also indicated that she should not have had to deal with the "whim of a prosecutor."

What this could mean for you

If your vehicle is seized because a friend or loved one borrowed your car and drove drunk, your efforts to get your vehicle back should have nothing to do with the case against him or her. As long as you were not in the vehicle or aware that the person you loaned it to would drink and drive in it, it should not affect your right to your property. Even so, filing and presenting your claim may require the assistance of a legal advocate.

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