Thursday, December 17, 2009

Minnesota DWI Lawyer Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case of the Week is: Laase v. One 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe. In Laase, the Minnesota Supreme Court upended existing case law and held that the "innocent owner defense" of the DWI vehicle forfeiture statute does not apply in the case of a jointly held vehicle where one of the joint owners is also the defendant offender causing the forfeiture of the vehicle.

David and Jean Laase were a fine married couple who belonged to their local country club. David, after playing golf, headed home leaving his wife behind at the club with one of their jointly owned vehicles. Jean Laase remained at the club to play in a golf league event.

Mr. Laase did not observe his wife consume any alcohol and had no knowledge of her activities after he left the club. At approximately 1:00 a.m., David Laase received a call from his wife stating that she had been arrested for a DWI. The current offense and the driving record of Jean Laase qualified the jointly held vehicle for forfeiture under the Minnesota DWI forfeiture statute.

David Laase challenged the County's seizure of the vehicle by making a Demand for Judicial Determination pursuant to Minn.Stat. § 169A.63. After a hearing, the District Court decided that the vehicle was not subject to forfeiture because Mr. Laase had demonstrated that he was an "innocent owner" under Minn.Stat. § 169A. 63, subd. 7(d).

The County appealed the decision but the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court. So far, so good for Mr. Laase!!

The County then Petitioned for Further Review to the Minnesota Supreme Court and alas, in a decision dated 12/17/09, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed.

In its opinion, the Minnesota Supreme Court noted:

"The question presented in this case is whether the innocent owner defense provided for in Minnesota‘s vehicle forfeiture statute, Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d), applies to prevent forfeiture of the Laases‘ vehicle. Under this defense:
A motor vehicle is not subject to forfeiture under this section if its owner can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated in any manner contrary to law or that the owner took reasonable steps to prevent the use of the vehicle by the offender.Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d).

Each party argues that the plain language of subdivision 7(d) supports its position. The County argues that the innocent owner defense does not apply because both owners were not innocent. Mr. Laase argues that, because he is an owner and innocent, the defense is available."

The Minnesota Supreme Court went on to note:

"The parties appear to agree that the innocent owner defense in the vehicle forfeiture statute, Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d), is unambiguous. The parties disagree, however, over whether all owners of the vehicle must be innocent in order for the defense to apply. The statute is written in the singular, providing that the defense is available if the vehicle‘s owner demonstrates innocence. But the County contends that we should rely on the canon in which the legislature has stated that the singular includes the plural. Minn. Stat. § 645.08(2) (2008). With owner construed as owners in subdivision 7(d), the County argues it is clear that the defense does not apply to this case because both “owners were not innocent."

In a 4 to 3 decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court bought the county's argument and held that "owner" means "owners" and since both "owners" are not "innocent" the innocent-owner defense does not apply to a jointly held vehicle where one of the owners is the defendant/offender.

Great. So in other words, a perfectly innocent individual must now suffer an economic loss; the innocent must lose their equity in the property if they hold it jointly with someone who happens to commit a crime. I respectfully submit that the Supreme Court's decision is just not fair.

I always thought that the sins of the father shall not be visited upon the son. But I guess that does not apply to a husband and wife.

Moral of the Story: Don't drink and drive or own property with anyone who does!!

F.T. Sessoms, Minnesota DWI Attorney

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The following chart summarizes the cases in which the vehicle is subject to forfeiture:
Chemical Test
Prior Record
(Prior means a previous DUI or alcohol related license revocation)
Vehicle Forfeiture
.20 or more
With one prior within the past 10 years
With one prior within the past 10 years
.08 with child endangerment
With one prior within the past 10 years
Refusal with child endangerment
Without any priors
With two or more priors within the past 10 years
.08 or refusal
With a "B" card or driving drunk while license has been previously cancelled as "inimical to public safety".

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Minnesota DWI Lawyer Blogs on Minnesota DWI: Minnesota's Ignition Interlock Program

Minnesota has an Ignition Interlock Program for people who have received a DWI offense. The ignition interlock is a device that is installed in a vehicle and is designed to measure an individual's alcohol concentration level. If the individual has been drinking, the device will not allow the vehicle to start. Individuals with multiple DWI offenses should join the interlock program as it allows most offenders (i.e. up to 6 prior offenses) to get at least a work permit within only 30 days of the offense!

The costs of the program are estimated by the Department of Public Safety to be as follows:

    Estimated costs of getting your license reinstated (required whether or not you participate in the Ignition Interlock Program)
    Driver’s license reinstatement fee: $680.00 Driver’s license exam fee: $24 – Cost may depend on type of license Special registration plates: $ 50.00 (Not always required)
    Estimated costs of participating in the II Program (varies by vendor)
    Installation fee: $35.00 -$100.00 Monthly maintenance fee: $60.00 - $125.00 Lockout fee: $35.00 - 50.00 Removal fee: $25.00 - 50.00 Switch Vehicle Fee – $55.00
Below is the eligibility table, published by the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, for individuals with multiple DWI offenses on their record. As you can see, most people will qualify for a driver's license as long as they are willing to abide by the terms and conditions of the interlock program.

Program Elgibility Table height="500" width="100%" > value="">
Any eligible individual wishing to participate in the
Minnesota Ignition Interlock Program must sign the
attached agreement:

Ignition Interlock Participation Agreement height="500" width="100%" > value="">