Monday, August 31, 2020

Minneapolis DWI Attorney F. T. Sessoms Blogs on Minnesota DWI: This Week's Featured Minnesota DWI Case

The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Jensen v. 1985 Ferrari (Decided August 31, 2020, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Published) which stands for the proposition that the DWI offender must equip the vehicle subject to forfeiture with an interlock device in order to avoid forfeiture of said vehicle.

In Jensen, the state charged the Defendant with four criminal offenses: third-degree driving while impaired (DWI), second-degree DWI, driving after consuming alcohol with a restricted license, and careless driving. Jensen pleaded guilty to third-degree DWI (a gross misdemeanor), and the remaining counts were dismissed. The court sentenced Jensen to about a year in jail stayed for two years, with supervised probation, 60 days of electronic home monitoring, a $900 fine, and various other conditions.

When he was arrested, police impounded Jensen’s Ferrari and provided him a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit the car. Jensen challenged the forfeiture, and the district court held a bench trial.

Jensen testified that he had previously participated in the ignition-interlock program beginning in 2012. At the time of this DWI, however, he had completed the program and no longer had interlock devices on his vehicles. But two months after the DWI from which this case stems, Jensen was arrested for another impaired driving offense in a rental car. After that incident, in October 2018, Jensen again enrolled in the ignition-interlock program with one of his other vehicles, his Range Rover. Jensen provided no evidence that he installed or attempted to install interlock devices on his other two vehicles, including the Ferrari.

The district court ordered the Ferrari forfeited to the Minnesota State Patrol. It concluded that Jensen had committed an offense in the Ferrari, which subjected the car to forfeiture (a “designated offense”), and that Jensen did not qualify for the statutory stay for participants in the ignition-interlock program.

On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court noting that in 2019, "the Minnesota legislature enacted an exception to the DWI-forfeiture process to promote participation in the state’s ignition-interlock program. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 13; see generally Minn. Stat. § 171.306 (describing the ignition- interlock-device program). Under this exception, if the driver becomes a program participant before the driver’s vehicle is ordered forfeited, forfeiture is stayed and the vehicle is returned pending the driver’s successful completion of the program. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 13(a). But to become a program participant in the ignition-interlock program, a device—which measures the driver’s breath for the presence of alcohol-must be installed in every vehicle the person intends to drive. Minn. Stat. § 171.306, subd. 3(d). And, for the duration of the program, the participant must abide by several program requirements, as outlined in statute, or the vehicle may be taken again by law enforcement. See Minn. Stat. §§ 169A.63, subd. 13(b), (c), (f), 171.306, subds. 3, 5.".

The issue was whether or not Jensen's participation in the ignition interlock program insulated him from forfeiture of his Ferrari.  The Court of Appeals held it did not, stating:

"We begin with the plain language of the statute. It states:

'If the driver who committed a designated offense or whose conduct resulted in a designated license revocation becomes a program participant in the ignition interlock program under section 171.306 at any time before the motor vehicle is forfeited, the forfeiture proceeding is stayed and the vehicle must be returned.'

"The record establishes that, after a subsequent DWI, Jensen began participation in the ignition-interlock program with one of his other vehicles—a Range Rover—from October 2018 through the time of trial.Consequently, the key question is whether the statute requires Jensen to be participating in the program with the to-be-forfeited car, as opposed to any car."

"This statutory section does not define the key phrase—“the vehicle.”  Consequently, to determine its plain meaning, we read the entire forfeiture section and construe it as a whole, interpreting each word in the context of the whole statute to give effect to all of its parts. See In re Civil Commitment of Breault, 942 N.W.2d 368, 375-76 (Minn. App. 2020)."

"Under Minnesota Statutes section 169A.63, subdivision 6(a), “[a] motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture” when it is used to commit a designated offense or when its use results in a designated license revocation. (Emphasis added.) Subdivision 13(b) describes the consequences if an interlock-program participant fails to abide by the program rules. In that instance, “the vehicle whose forfeiture was stayed. . . may be seized and the forfeiture action may proceed.” Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 13(b) (emphasis added). And the subsequent provisions of subdivision 13—all enacted at the same time—repeatedly refer to the vehicle being forfeited as “the vehicle.” See id., subd. 13(g)-(i)."

"We acknowledge that when reading this section—which pertains to driving while impaired—an earlier provision defines “vehicle” more generally, as any device that transports people or property on a highway. See Minn. Stat. §§ 169.011, subd. 92, 169A.03, subd. 25 (2018). But in the provision at issue here, the statute refers to “the vehicle.” Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 13(a). The rules of common usage and grammar tell us that “the” denotes “a definite article that refers to a particular noun.” Patino, 821N.W.2d at 816. Accordingly, “the vehicle” means a particular vehicle, not any vehicle. Applying this reasoning to the statute as a whole, we conclude that the plain meaning of Minnesota Statutes section 169A.63, subdivision 13, generally requires the driver to be participating in the program with “the vehicle” that is to be forfeited, not just any vehicle.

***"Having established that the Act requires a driver to be enrolled in the ignition-interlock program with the to-be-forfeited vehicle, we turn to the facts involving Jensen’s Ferrari. The record contains no evidence that Jensen attempted to install an ignition-interlock device on his Ferrari.  Nor does the record establish that Jensen did not intend to drive the Ferrari. And as we discussed earlier, ignition-interlock participants must install “an ignition interlock device on every motor vehicle that the participant operates or intends to operate.” Minn. Stat. § 171.306, subd. 3(d) (emphasis added)."

"In sum, a driver participating in the ignition-interlock program must be enrolled in the program with the vehicle that is the subject of the forfeiture proceedings in order to stay forfeiture of that vehicle under Minnesota Statutes section 169A.63, subdivision 13. Jensen did not meet this requirement. As a result, the district court did not err by concluding that the forfeiture of Jensen’s Ferrari did not qualify for the statutory stay of the forfeiture proceeding."

Moral Of The Story:  Being penny wise but pound foolish can cost you a Ferrari!

If you or a loved one have been charged with a Minnesota DWI, feel free to contact Minneapolis DWI Attorney, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI and DUI questions.