In three years there have been hundreds-maybe thousands of cases where Minnesota judges have ordered law enforcement to return vehicles. Why? Because of how the civil forfeiture laws are written there. It is so out of whack that Minnesota cops can seize and sell your vehicle and keep the money. Even if you’re innocent. Here is what is going on and how police defend the practice.
The police say they want to stop repeat DUI offenders from driving
The police say they want to stop repeat DUI offenders from driving. Fair enough. But a local TV affiliate has found examples where vehicles have been seized and sold even though they have never been charged. Here’s one example:
A woman had a newer Chevy Camaro that was paid off. A co-worker drove her home in the Camaro. A State Patrol officer pulled them over and asked the driver to take a breathalyzer test. The co-worker refused. What the woman didn’t know was that the co-worker had a DUI on his record.
The patrol officer seized the car and arrested the co-worker. The owner of the Camaro was not a party to all of this but nonetheless she was left holding the bag. When the woman complained to the State Police they told her she was responsible for the driver’s actions. Huh? They told the owner she should have gotten a complete driving history for the driver. Also, she should have given him a sobriety test before allowing him to drive her Camaro.
“We follow state statutes as they’re written, and we operate under our current policies”
When 5 Investigates confronted the officer involved in the car seizure he said, “We follow state statutes as they’re written, and we operate under our current policies.” The State Patrol released a statement that said it is “committed to enforcing DWI laws” which include vehicle forfeiture “for the most serious DWI violations and repeat offenders.”
While the owner was waiting for the outcome of the trial when the pandemic hit. She decided to cave and purchase her Camaro back. She had to negotiate with the Minnesota Attorney General’s office which graciously accepted the $4,000 she paid to get her car back. But that’s not all.
In Minnesota, they have what are called “whiskey plates”
In Minnesota, they have what are called “whiskey plates.” These are license plates that are a different color to indicate the driver has a conviction for DUI. But the owner of the Camaro doesn’t have a conviction. Nonetheless, she is stuck with the by-the-books procedure involved in these types of forfeitures.
Lawmakers in Minnesota recognize how unfair this all is. It seems they have been trying to get the law changed to avoid innocent people from being sucked into the system like the Camaro owner. Even with bipartisan support, a lawmaker told 5 Investigates that the problem is the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.
“It’s not the right way to fund law enforcement-even law enforcement knows that”
State Representative John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul has repeatedly authored bills to try to reform asset forfeiture in Minnesota, according to the affiliate. Lesch and others say opposition from the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association is what killed his latest bill. “When you’re taking vehicles from innocent owners… you’re not making anyone safer, you’re just lining your pockets,” Lesch said. “It’s not the right way to fund law enforcement… even law enforcement knows that.”