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When does a DWI lead to vehicle forfeiture?

Aug 14, 2023 | DWI

In Minnesota, a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge can lead to penalties such as fines, surcharges, license suspensions and even a prison sentence. But under certain circumstances, you can also lose your car as part of the punishment.

When does this administrative vehicle forfeiture apply, and is there anything you can do to contest the confiscation?

Vehicle forfeiture for serious offenses

Your vehicle will go through the administrative vehicle forfeiture procedure if either of the following conditions apply:

  • Designated license revocation: If officials disqualify your license for violating the state’s implied consent rules (by refusing a roadside test) within 10 years of two or more prior DWI incidents.
  • Designated offense: If a court convicts you of a first or second-degree DWI violation or if the court determines that you’re a threat to public safety and cancels your license as a result.

Under Minnesota law, an officer can seize your vehicle while a prosecutor serves you a notice of the forfeiture.

What happens in the forfeiture process?

The state agency responsible for your arrest will process the forfeiture administratively unless you challenge it within 60 days of confiscation. If you’re the vehicle owner facing a DWI charge, you must file for a civil action in district court to contest the forfeiture.

And if you don’t challenge the forfeiture, the arresting agency may sell or keep or car.

If somebody else owns the car you were driving when an officer charged you with DWI, such as a parent or relative, the original owner must notify the prosecutors that they’re challenging the forfeiture. Suppose a court determines that the original owner was unaware that the violating driver took their vehicle or the owner tried to take reasonable steps to prevent the intoxicated driver from taking it. In that case, the court can return the car to the owner.

As a punishment, vehicle forfeitures are reserved for DWI repeat offenders or drivers whose drunk driving is very dangerous for other motorists and pedestrians. The forfeiture process is separate from the DWI court hearing, so be prepared for a legal battle on two fronts.