Driver Successfully Challenges Constitutionality of DWI Forfeiture Statute

Last week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in Megan Ashley Olson, et al., v. One 1999 Lexus MN License Plate No. 851LDV VIN: JT6HF10U6X0079461 that the DWI forfeiture statute, as applied to Ms. Olson, is unconstitutional.

Minnesota Statute § 169A.63 governs when a vehicle may be forfeited.  In Minnesota, when someone is arrested for a “designated offense”—First Degree DWI, Second Degree DWI, getting a DWI while your driver’s license is canceled as inimical to public safety, or getting a DWI while driving with an alcohol-restricted license—the vehicle they are driving at the time of the offense is subject to forfeiture.  When this happens, the driver can contest the validity of the forfeiture by filing a demand for judicial determination.

The timing of the judicial determination was the issue in the Olson case.  Subdivision 9(d) of § 169A.63 establishes the timing for when a judicial determination must be made.  Subdivision 9(d) states that a judicial determination “must be held at the earliest practicable date, and in any event no later than 180 days following the filing of the demand…”  However, the subdivision goes on to state that if there is a related criminal proceeding pending, then the hearing shall not be held until the criminal matter is concluded.  This means that until your criminal “designated offense” is resolved, you cannot get a hearing to challenge the forfeiture of your vehicle.

In Olson, the owner of the vehicle, Ms. Olson, did not get her hearing until after her DWI was resolved, which was eighteen months after the vehicle was seized.  Ms. Olson argued that this lack of a prompt hearing to address the validity of the seizure of her vehicle violated her right to due process, which in turn made subdivision 9(d) of the forfeiture statute unconstitutional

The Court of Appeals declined to rule that subdivision 9(d) was unconstitutional in every case because there are circumstances where a party could be provided with a prompt hearing to review the forfeiture of their vehicle (i.e. pleading guilty or demanding a speedy trial).  However, the court did rule that subdivision 9(d) was unconstitutional as applied to Ms. Olson.  In other words, they upheld the law, but decided that in this particular case, with this particular set of circumstances, the law was unconstitutional.

Why is this case important?  Because it set a precedent that could be used in your particular case, with your particular set of circumstances to get your vehicle returned to you.

Developments like this show how the legal landscape is constantly changing.  When facing charges, and the possible loss of property, call the experienced attorneys at Migala Law Office to make sure that your rights and property are protected.forfeiture-1