On September 26, 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court released an important decision in the DWI vehicle forfeiture of Patino v. One 2007 Chevrolet. The Court applied the plain language of the DWI forfeiture statute and held that an owner is entitled to return of the vehicle if the alleged offender attends court and is not convicted of the "designated offense" triggering the initial forfeiture.
Under the forfeiture statute, a "designated offense" is defined as First or Second Degree DWI/Test Refusal or any DWI/Test Refusal offense where the driver has a B-card restriction or is canceled inimical to public safety (IPS).
The decision clears up the longstanding confusion arising from the Minnesota Court of Appeals 2007 decision in Matakoski, where the court of appeals ruled that a criminal conviction of the "designated offense" was not required to uphold the government's forfeiture of a vehicle.
Matakoski was poorly decided because the plain language of the DWI forfeiture statute reads in relevant part:
"If 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."
The Minnesota Supreme Court in Patino correctly overruled Matakoski, applying the plain language of the statute. In Patino, the government initiated vehicle forfeiture based on charges of Second Degree DWI. The defendant attended court and ultimately was convicted of Third Degree DWI, which is not a "designated offense" under the DWI forfeiture statute. The owner of the vehicle sought judicial review of the forfeiture and argued, inter alia, that the vehicle must be returned based on the plain language of the statute. The Court agreed, despite the government's insistence to the contrary.
Patino is a victory for common sense and the protection of property rights.