Minnesota Supremes Limit Car Confiscation From Innocent Owners

To save the Minnesota law that authorizes police to confiscate cars from drunk driving suspects, the state Supreme Court on Wednesday declared that police could not take cars from innocent owners any longer. That was what happened to the white 1999 Lexus RX300 SUV, which was seized by the Shakopee police on October 7, 2015, because its driver, Megan Olson, was pulled over under the suspicion that she had been driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), something that had happened on three previous occasions.

The SUV did not belong to Megan Olson. It belonged to her mom, Helen Olson, and the state law authorizing the seizure gave the elder Olson no realistic way to contest the taking until her daughter’s criminal trial was complete.

While the statute contains an “innocent owner” defense, another clause states that this defense cannot be exercised if the driver happens to be a family member with three prior convictions. The Olsons moved to have the law struck down in its entirety as a clear violation of due process rights. They argued the law took property from owners who were not accused of any crime without offering an opportunity to challenge the taking until DUI trial was complete, which in this case was February 13, 2017 — eighteen months after the police grabbed the Lexus.