Below is an overview of the forfeiture and impoundment process in Minnesota. Read through our Definitions tab for commonly used words, and read through our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information about the forfeiture and impoundment process. The Forms tab will help guide you to the forms packets that are available.

What is Forfeiture?

Forfeiture is the process that a state agency uses to seize (take) property from an owner after someone is arrested, charged, or convicted of a specific crime. Usually this happens when someone is arrested by law enforcement for driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of controlled substances (drugs) or alcohol or after fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle. The motor vehicle and other property can be seized. Your property, including cash, could also be seized during a drug arrest. Forfeiture of property is a civil issue that is separate from any criminal charges that may have been filed against someone. To get your property back, you may need to file paperwork with the court.

Innocent owners

If you are the owner of a motor vehicle that was seized while someone else was driving, you may be able to ask the prosecuting authority to return the vehicle to you without having to file paperwork with the court. If you don’t know whether you are an innocent owner or if you have questions about bringing an innocent owner claim, you may want to consider getting legal advice.

For more information about forfeiture, see the FAQs.

Administrative Review

The process to ask a non-court agency to review your case and decide whether the action taken by the agency that seized the property was appropriate. Cases that involve license plate impoundment may be administratively reviewed by the MN Department of Public Safety (Driver and Vehicle Services).

Crime

An act not allowed by law that may be punished by imprisonment and/or a fine. A crime may also be referred to as an offense.

Forfeiture

The process that a state agency uses to seize (take) property from an owner after someone is charged, arrested, or convicted of a specific crime.

Impoundment

The process of taking property away from an owner for a certain period of time. To get the property back, there may be fees that have to be paid. Typically, when impoundment happens in a forfeiture case the MN Department of Public Safety (Driver and Vehicle Services) has impounded your license plates, which can limit your ability to use your motor vehicle.

Implied Consent

The indirect consent given by all drivers on Minnesota roads to be tested for controlled substances (drugs) or alcohol in their systems when asked by law enforcement. Consequences for failing a test or refusing to take a test to check for drugs or alcohol in your system can include criminal charges, revocation of your driver’s license, forfeiture of the vehicle, and/or impoundment of the license plates. Visit the Minnesota State Law Library for more information about implied consent laws.

Innocent Owner

The owner of a motor vehicle that was seized while someone else was driving, if they did not have any knowledge that the vehicle would be used to break the law or tried to stop the vehicle from being used to break the law. See Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7a and Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd. 1a.

Innocent Owner Notice/Claim

A process by which an innocent owner may ask the prosecuting authority to release (return) the vehicle without having to file paperwork with the court. For information about bringing an innocent owner claim, review the FAQ “What if I was not the person driving at the time that my vehicle was taken by law enforcement?”

Judicial Review

The process used to ask the court to review your case and decide whether the action taken by the agency that seized the property was appropriate.

Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit

The name of the notice that is given to the owner of property after a seizure has happened. This notice is given by the law enforcement agency that took the property.

Prosecuting Authority

The city or county attorney’s office that brought criminal charges against someone for the drug or alcohol-related offense that led to the seizure of property.

Seizure

Taking property from an owner.

Why was my property seized and what is law enforcement allowed to take?

For certain alcohol-related offenses, MN law says that vehicles can be seized by law enforcement and forfeited.

If the offense is related to controlled substances (drugs), Minn. Stat. § 609.5314 allows for the following property to be seized by law enforcement and forfeited along with the drugs:

  • All money totaling $1,500 or more, precious metals, and precious stones if there is probable cause to believe that they represent the profits of a drug offense;
  • All money found near the drugs when there is  probable cause to believe the money was exchanged for the purchase of drugs;
  • All vehicles with a value of $100 or more if there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle was used in the transporation or exchange of drugs meant to be sold or distributed; and
  • All firearms, ammunition, or firearm accessories found either in the vehicle that was used or meant to be used to commit a felony drug violation under Minn. Stat. ch. 152, near you when you were arrested, or on the premises where drugs were seized.

What if I was not the person driving at the time that my vehicle was taken by law enforcement?

If your vehicle was being driven by someone else while they were allegedly under the influence of controlled substances (drugs) or alcohol, law enforcement can still seize it. If you qualify as an innocent owner under the law because you did not have any knowledge that the vehicle would be used to break the law or you tried to stop the vehicle from being used to break the law, you may be able to get your property back without going to court.

If you believe you are an innocent owner, you may bring an innocent owner claim by notifying the prosecuting authority of your ownership interest in writing no later than 60 days after being served with the Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit. Your written notice to the prosecuting authority does not get filed with the court. After receiving an innocent owner notice, the prosecuting authority may release (return) the vehicle or may go forward with the forfeiture by filing a separate complaint with the court and serving you with a copy. See Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7a (alcohol-related vehicle seizure) and Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd.1a (controlled substances-related vehicle seizure).

If you don’t know whether you are an innocent owner or if you have questions about asserting an innocent owner claim, you may want to consider getting legal advice.

How do I get my property back?

If you were the person arrested and you want to try to get your property back, you may need to file paperwork with the court to ask that the property be returned to you. There are different forms depending on the value of the property seized and the reason the property was seized. You must serve and file your forms no later than 60 days after you are served with the Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit. See the Forms tab for more information.

Innocent Owners: If you are the owner of a motor vehicle that was seized while someone else was driving, and you did not know that the vehicle would be used to break the law or you tried to stop the vehicle from being used to break the law, you may ask for the return of your vehicle directly from the prosecuting authority. You can do this by notifying the prosecuting authority in writing of your ownership interest within 60 days of being served with the Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit. See What if I was not the person driving at the time that my vehicle was taken by law enforcement? for more information.

How long do I have to file my paperwork with the court?

If your property (motor vehicle, cash, etc.) was seized or your license plates were impounded, you have 60 days from when you were served with the notice to file paperwork with the court.

Where do I file my forfeiture paperwork?

You must file your forfeiture paperwork in the county where the seizure happened. See Minn. Stat. §169A.63, subd. 8(e) and Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd. 3.

Is there a fee to file my forfeiture paperwork?

No, there is no fee to file your paperwork.

How soon after filing my paperwork will my forfeiture hearing happen?

It depends. If you were charged in a criminal case for the same arrest, the court will wait until that case has finished before scheduling your civil forfeiture hearing. If you have questions about when your forfeiture hearing will be scheduled, contact court administration in the county where you filed your paperwork.

Will forfeiture be handled in my criminal case?

No, forfeiture is a separate civil process. If you are being charged in a criminal case, the purpose of the criminal case is to decide whether you have broken the law and if so, what the consequences may be. If you have an attorney representing you in your criminal case, that attorney may or may not be able to help you with your forfeiture case. If you have a criminal attorney, it is a good idea to ask them if  they can help you ask for your property to be returned. Public defenders appointed by the court are not able to help with forfeiture cases.

If I am never charged criminally or the criminal charges are dismissed, will my property be automatically returned?

Even if your criminal case is dismissed or you are never charged criminally, this does not mean that your property will automatically be returned to you.

What if my license plates were impounded?

If the license plates on one motor vehicle were impounded, the plates on all the vehicles that you own or co-own will also be impounded. You can file a petition to ask the court to review the decision. If the court does not return your plates to you, you may be able to ask the MN Department of Public Safety (Driver & Vehicle Services) to give you Special Registration Plates. These plates would allow you to continue to lawfully use your motor vehicle with some restrictions.

What if my driver’s license is being revoked for implied consent?

If your driver’s license is being revoked for implied consent, the MN Department of Public Safety (Driver and Vehicle Services) is taking away your ability to legally drive. If you want the court to review the decision to revoke your license you could file a petition with the court. If you need help with this process, we strongly encourage you to get legal advice.

 

How do I know who to serve with my forfeiture paperwork?

If you file forfeiture paperwork, you need to serve a copy of your paperwork on the other party or parties in your case. Who the other party or parties are depends upon your individual circumstances:

  • For a controlled substance (drug) offense: If the property or vehicle was seized due to a drug offense, you need to serve the prosecuting authority in the county where the offense happened. See Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd. 3.
  • For an alcohol-related offense: If the vehicle was seized due to an alcohol-related offense, you will need to serve the prosecuting authority that has jurisdiction over the forfeiture. See Minn. Stat. § 169A.63. Generally, this will be the county or city attorney responsible for prosecuting the criminal offense. Deciding which office needs to be served (either the city attorney or the county attorney) depends upon the level of offense you have been charged with in your criminal case and which law enforcement agency made the arrest:
    • If you or the driver of the vehicle have been charged with a felony, you will need to serve the county attorney.
    • If you or the driver of the vehicle have been charged with a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, you will generally need to serve the city attorney for the city where the offense happened. There may be some exceptions.
    • If the forfeiture was started by a state agency such as the State Patrol, you may need to serve different or additional agencies such as the Attorney General’s Office or its designee.
We strongly encourage you to talk to a lawyer if you are unsure who to serve in your case.

The forms you will need to use depend upon the value of the property seized and the reason the property was seized. To choose the correct forms, first answer the questions below, then select your packet of forms. The packet of forms will include all the forms you need to complete as well as instructions. Be sure to read the instructions carefully.
 

Property Seized Due to a Controlled Substances (Drug) Offense:

 

Motor Vehicle Seized Due to an Alcohol-Related Offense:

 

Impoundment Forms:

You will use the Petition for Review of Administrative Impoundment Order (Approval of Issuance of Special Plates After Judicial Impoundment Order and Approval of Transfer of Vehicle after Judicial Impoundment Order) form to ask the court:
  • To review an administrative order from the Department of Public Safety impounding your license plates and to return the plates to you;
  • To allow issuance of special plates after a judicial impoundment order; or
  • If you can transfer title to a vehicle that has impounded plates.
The following is a list of some of the laws and rules that relate to forfeiture cases. We encourage you to talk to a lawyer to get advice on how the laws and rules may affect your case. Learn more about Laws, Rules & Legal Research.
 

Driver and Vehicle Services – Motor Vehicle Forms, Documents, and Tax Manual – Forms published by Driver and Vehicle Services that relate to motor vehicles, including a form for Administrative Review of License Plate Impoundment Order.

DWI-EZ Reference Guide for Enforcing Minnesota DWI Laws – Information about when your property may be seized and potential criminal consequences for DWI cases.

License Plates – Special Registration Plates – Information about how to apply for Special Registration Plates after your plates have been impounded, so that you can continue to lawfully drive your motor vehicle.