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Civil asset forfeiture: How it dovetails with a DUI/drug charge

If arrested and charged with a DUI/DWI, law enforcement will usually tow and impound your vehicle. Getting it back can prove more difficult than you ever imagined.

The state brings a civil forfeiture action in a separate civil proceeding to seize your property - the vehicle you were driving or cash allegedly associated with a drug crime. Depending on the value of your vehicle or the amount of cash, the case may even proceed in conciliation court. In this blog, we will discuss reforms along with why the numbers have held steady.

Three changes in legislation

Civil asset forfeiture remains controversial. A conflict in interest exists – this is in part because the proceeds are generally split between law enforcement (70 percent), a county attorney’s office (20 percent) and the state’s general fund (10 percent).

In 2010, legislation tightened reporting requirement related to seized property. It also prohibited law enforcement officers, employees of county government and their families from buying forfeited property.

Then in 2014, another update required a conviction prior to forfeiting property in drug cases. This was important since cash forfeited by state agencies often relates to allegations of drug use or sales.

This year, a law was passed by the legislature that protects vehicle owners. In the past, a forfeiture action could proceed against the owner even if someone else had been driving the car. The only exception had been if the owner could prove the driver did not have permission.

After all these changes, have the number of forfeitures decreased across the state? No, they have not. According to a MinnPost analysis, they may have edged higher from an annual rough average of 6,000 ($6 million in proceeds) to 7,000 ($7.4 million in proceeds) in 2016.

How can you protect your property?

The variety of items seized is broad: a Toyota Prius, Polaris ATV and 22-caliber gun to name a few.

Many people do not realize that a parallel civil case brought against their property is proceeding at the same time they are fighting DUI or drug charges in criminal court. And prosecutors vigorously pursue these forfeiture cases, because they provide another revenue stream.

Various organizations have suggested reforms to the civil asset forfeiture process to make it more fair. One suggestion that worked in New Mexico and Nebraska was to add the forfeiture component into the criminal court process.

While we wait on additional state reforms, it is crucial to talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away after an arrest or charge. This is the only way to find out exactly what you are up against and protect your rights.

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