On May 9, 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Patino v. One 2007 Chevrolet ,a case that could drastically change the State’s ability to confiscate someone’s car if they are charged with certain DWI or DUI related offenses.
In the case, Patino’s roommate was driving her car with a 10-year-old in the vehicle when he was stopped by a police officer who suspected he was intoxicated. He was subsequently arrested and charged with 2nd Degree DWI because there was a child in the vehicle, and because he had a prior DWI conviction. After negotiations with the prosecutor, however, he pleaded guilty to 3rd Degree DWI and was never convicted of 2nd Degree DWI. Soon after, the State initiated forfeiture proceedings and ultimately took away Patino’s car.
Under Minnesota Statute 169A.63, which deals with vehicle forfeitures, the State is allowed to confiscate a drunk driver’s vehicle if they commit a “designated offense.” Designated offenses generally include 1st and 2nd Degree DWI. Subdivision 9(f) of the statute provides that:
“[i]f the forfeiture is based on the commission of a designated offense and the person charged with the designated offense appears in court as required and is not convicted of the offense, the court shall order the property returned to the person legally entitled to it[.]”
Based off the above-language, Patino demanded a judicial determination of the forfeiture, arguing that because her roommate was never actually convicted of 2nd Degree DWI, the unambiguous language of the statute requires the State to return her car. The district court, however, refused to return the vehicle despite the clear language in the statute that requires the State to return her car.
Instead, the court relied on the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision in Mastakoski v. 2003 Dodge Durango, which basically concluded that the State can take someone’s vehicle even if they were never convicted of a designated offense. In that decision, the Court of Appeals was interpreting a separate subdivision of the forfeiture statute, and never even discussed the unambiguous language described above that requires the State to return the vehicle if the person was never convicted of the designated offense.
Not satisfied with the district court’s response, Patino appealed the decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and in October of 2011, it determined that Patino was right, and that the unambiguous language of the statute requires the State to return Patino’s vehicle because her roommate was never convicted of the designated offense.
The county attorney appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and today we await a decision on whether a conviction of a designated offense is necessary for the State to take someone’s vehicle when they are charged with DWI.
Poole Law Office PLLC frequently represents people suspected of DWI. If you are charged with DUI/DWI and are facing vehicle forfeiture, you need a Duluth DWI lawyer to aggressively represent you and ensure your rights are protected. To schedule a free consultation, call us now at 218-461-0247, or fill out our contact form.