In the last two parts of the Vehicle Forfeiture Series, we discussed forfeiture in a nutshell and the conditions of vehicle forfeiture. Today, we will focus on a crucial defense when fighting vehicle forfeiture: The Innocent Owner Defense.
This defense is applicable when the vehicle was forfeited as the result of actions by a person other than the owner of the vehicle. For instance, if Robin borrowed the Batmobile and got a DWI, Batman would be considered an Innocent Owner. Therefore, a Vehicle Forfeiture Coordinator would enter an Innocent Owner Defense in order to return the Batmobile to Batman.
In order to better understand this defense, we must first examine how MN State Law defines “owner.”
MN Statute 169A.63 defines “Owner” as a person legally entitled to possession, use, and control of a motor vehicle, including a lessee of a motor vehicle if the lease agreement has a term of 180 days or more.
It is also assumed that the person registered as “Owner” of the motor vehicle, according to the MN Department of Public Safety, is the legal owner. So, the name on the vehicle title is considered the owner.
If a motor vehicle is owned jointly by two or more people, then each owner’s responsibility extends to the entire vehicle jointly. If two people own a car together, they are each independently responsible for the entire vehicle.
There are several conditions which must be in place to present an Innocent Owner Defense:
- The title owner CANNOT be the offender.
- The owner can demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that they did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated in any way that would violate the law OR…
- The owner took reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle by the offender.
- ALL owners of the vehicle must be innocent.
- The owner must demonstrate Constructive Knowledge.
If you are an innocent owner facing possible vehicle forfeiture in Minnesota, contact a MN Criminal Defense Vehicle Forfeiture Coordinator right away.