When dealing with vehicle forfeitures, the Forfeiture Coordinators at Appelman Law Firm always prefer to negotiate the return of the vehicle to its owner. However, this isn’t always an option for every client. When we cannot negotiate the return of the vehicle, we must approach the forfeiture with a different tactic.
In certain cases, many city and county prosecutors are unwilling to negotiate the return of a vehicle. As we explained earlier, the negotiation phase is 30 days for a DWI offense and 60 days for a possession drug offense. If we are unable to come to a resolution with the prosecutor within that period of time, we must file a civil suit against the vehicle itself. In doing so, the client is essentially suing their vehicle, claiming that it gave itself to the state improperly. (EX: Batman v. Batmobile License Plate #: 555-BAT)
This process, however, can be very expensive. The civil filing fee is roughly $320 in most Minnesota counties. However, many counties offer the claimant (owner) to challenge the forfeiture in conciliation court instead of district court. The filing fee for conciliation court is $75, which is refunded if the claimant is successful. However, a forfeiture can only be brought to conciliation court if the value of the vehicle is less than $7,500 for DWI offenses and $15,000 for drug offenses.
Both the district court and conciliation court options take time. According to MN Statute 169A.63, the judicial determination of the forfeiture must not precede adjudication of the criminal prosecution without the prosecutor’s consent. This means that without the consent of the prosecutor, the forfeiture cannot be challenged in court until the pending criminal case is resolved. During this time, the plaintiff is still contractually obligated to make any loan and lease payments for the vehicle.
Appelman Law Firm clients always have the option to waive their right to challenge the judicial determination and allow the vehicle to be administratively forfeited to the State. This option isn’t appropriate for every case and it’s the client alone who can make this decision. However, in some cases where the chances of retrieving the vehicle are very low, this can be the most cost effective option. Stay tuned for next week when we discuss administrative forfeiture and how the MN criminal defense team Appelman Law Firm can help its clients save money and protect their credit during this process.