Minnesota law allows police and other law enforcement authorities to seize your vehicle without process during the course of a lawful arrest or lawful search. Generally speaking, a vehicle seizure is the result of an arrest for driving while intoxicated, or a search that turns up some sort of illegal contraband. There are some limited circumstances where an officer might impound a vehicle without an accompanying arrest, however, such as if you are pulled over and found to be driving without proof of insurance.
In general, seizure of your vehicle due to a DWI does not subject it to permanent forfeiture. It is only at potential risk if you are on your third DWI charge within 10 years, your second within 10 years with a minor under the age of 16 present, or your license is canceled or under restriction.
Vehicles can also be seized under other circumstances. The state has the right to take a vehicle without process if it is included in an established criminal injunction or forfeiture proceeding. If investigating officers believe that a delay in seizing the vehicle may result in the destruction of evidence, they can also seize it on the spot without process, but in these cases they must institute a forfeiture action at the registered address of the owner as soon as possible.
When your vehicle is seized, the police must provide you with a receipt. If you are not present when it is seized, they must leave a receipt where the vehicle was found if it is reasonable to do so. This means that they will leave a receipt if the vehicle is taken from your home, but may not do so if it is taken from the side of the road or some other public place.
It is possible to get your vehicle back prior to a forfeiture action taking place by posting bond for it. However, it can only be returned to you with a disabling device attached to it. In most cases, after it is taken the vehicle will be towed to the city’s impound lot. The city will mail a notice to the registered owner’s address with the vehicle’s location within 15 days, but you can find out before that by calling the public works department. Some cities, such as Minneapolis, also offer an online search tool to locate your vehicle by VIN or license plate number. To retrieve your vehicle you will need to show proof of valid Minnesota driving privileges and proof of insurance. The owner of the vehicle may designate an agent to pick it up for them.
The forfeiture can become permanent under a number of different circumstances. The central circumstance is if you are convicted of the offense that led to the seizure of the vehicle. You can also lose the vehicle if you fail to appear at court, and do not surrender yourself within 48 hours of the court appointment that you missed. If your license is revoked, the vehicle will not be forfeited during the appeal process, provided you filed the appeal in a timely manner. If the revocation is upheld, however, you can also lose the vehicle.
What if your vehicle was used by another party in the commission of a crime and seized on that basis, but you were not aware of it? If you can show clear and convincing evidence that you were not aware the offending party was going to break the law, or that you attempted to prevent the offender from using the vehicle but they took it anyway, then the vehicle is not subject to forfeiture. This only applies if you have less than three impaired driving convictions, however. You are required to be provided with written warning that your vehicle is subject to forfeiture within 60 days after it is seized. This warning must also include language that informs you as to where you are required to file a lawsuit to get your property back.
If your vehicle is subject to forfeiture, you have a narrow window in which to take the legal steps to get it back. Contact us immediately for the assistance of an experienced attorney.