Court of Appeals Clarifies Forfeiture Procedure

By Daniel J. Cragg

The Court of Appeals today in Mycka v. 2003 GMC Envoy, held that a seizure of a vehicle that occurred after a DWI suspect was released from jail and had rightfully reestablished possession of the vehicle was not “incident to a lawful arrest,” and therefore, the seizure was unlawful under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 2.  The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s order of forfeiture outright without any remand.  Since the language of the DWI forfeiture statute regarding seizure is identical to the controlled substances forfeiture statute, see Minn. Stat. § 609.531, subd. 4, this holding will likely affect those proceedings as well.

The result was reached largely on statutory construction grounds and would seem relatively unremarkable, however, it has become fairly commonplace in some cities and counties for law enforcement to not seize a vehicle subject to forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 until after the criminal proceedings have concluded.  In such a case, it is now clear that the prosecuting authority must commence a judicial action for forfeiture and obtain either a writ of attachment or arrest warrant for the property subject to forfeiture.

The most remarkable part of the Court of Appeals analysis is a footnote that noted that the language of the statute is similar to phrases used in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, including the phrase “incident to a lawful arrest,” but the Court found Fourth Amendment case law had “limited value” because it dealt with unlawful searches.  The Court did note that the Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures,” before finding the related case law inapplicable.  (Emphasis added).

Practitioner’s pointer: Minn. Stat. § 570, et seq., on the subject of attachment, is only applicable to actions for the recovery of money, both in personam and quasi-in-rem, and certain actions brought by the Attorney-General.  A writ of attachment or arrest warrant for a true in rem action, such as a forfeiture proceeding, flows from the District Court’s authority under Minn. Stat. § 484.03 to issue, “all other writs, processes, and orders necessary to the complete exercise of the jurisdiction vested in [the District Court] by law…”

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