Give That Back! Civil Forfeiture in Minnesota

Recently, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions advocated for expanding federal civil forfeiture. (Read more about it here.) Civil forfeiture occurs when the government seizes your property. The government owns the property upon seizure. Most often, it sells the seized property and divides proceeds. In Minnesota, law enforcement receives 70% and the prosecution 30%.

In Minnesota, forfeiture usually occurs in one of two contexts. One common way occurs through controlled substances. Government seizes property that “has been used, or is intended for use, or has in any way facilitated” controlled substance crime. (Click here for the Revisor’s website on controlled substance forfeitures.)

Another common cause of forfeiture relates to DWI laws. Convictions for first- or second-degree DWI subjects vehicles to forfeiture. (Click here for the Revisor’s site on DWI-related forfeiture.)

For a return of your property, you must show that your property was not involved in the crime. Attaining dismissal qualifies you for return of your property. Sometimes, you may consult with the prosecuting authority and negotiate a “buy-back” of your things. (It seems a bit counter intuitive to pay someone for the return of your things, but the law is not always intuitive.) Occasionally, government releases the property to a lien holder (such as a bank who loaned the money for the vehicle purchase.)

The legislature created civil forfeiture for prevention and punishment. Rare is the case, however, where persons with property subject to forfeiture know that the marijuana in a glove compartment or the alcohol in the blood causes seizure of their car. Most often, then, the government’s seizing property is simply punitive. Nonetheless, on occasion, the government seizes property with much, much less justification. (Click here for a Last Week Tonight piece regarding forfeiture.)

Finally, the Minnesota Public Defender’s Office cannot represent you in a forfeiture matter: forfeiture is civil in nature. Consult an attorney early if the government seizes your property. The deadlines for petitioning for return of your property come fast. Let us know if you need assistance by clicking here.