When Emma Dietrich asked a co-worker to drive her home in her 2013 Chevrolet Camaro, she was not expecting Minnesota State Troopers to seize her vehicle during a traffic stop. Unfortunately for Dietrich, troopers arrested the co-worker and seized Dietrich’s vehicle, even though she was not the driver at the time and she was never arrested or charged with a crime.
According to sources, her co-worker was purportedly clocked driving at over 100 mph and was stopped by state troopers. The Minnesota woman was unaware that her co-worker had a prior infraction for driving while intoxicated. When the co-worker refused to take a breath test, the troopers arrested him and seized Dietrich’s vehicle using civil asset forfeiture.
Asset forfeiture laws allow police and prosecutors to confiscate property—vehicles, cash, real estate—suspected of being connected to criminal activity. A seizure may occur as part of a criminal conviction and sometimes in cases where the property owner was never charged for a crime, like in her case. Civil asset forfeiture, in particular, doesn’t require the property owner to be criminally convicted, which is why the practice has been heavily criticized as a violation of constitutional rights.
The logic behind the seizures like the one the vehicle owner experienced is that police will seize and sell vehicles belonging to repeat DUI offenders and prevent them from repeating the offense in the future. Records show that three out of four vehicles seized by Minnesota law enforcement between 2016 and 2018 were from DUI-related arrests.
In her case, she was a passenger in her car when it was seized. Rather than fight the seizure in court, she opted to pay state police $4,000 to buy back the vehicle. Her car was eventually returned, but it now has “whiskey plates” which are used by law enforcement to identify vehicles with prior drunk driving convictions.
Cases like hers aren’t uncommon; according to a review of statewide data, Minnesota’s forfeiture law has allowed police to take close to 14,000 vehicles in just three years, generating nearly $10 million for those departments. One has to wonder how many of them involved people who weren’t even convicted of crimes and were forced to buy back their property like Dietrich. Worse, many can’t afford the buy-back price tag, so their property is auctioned off.
This is why it is crucial for anyone who receives a notice of civil forfeiture to immediately consult an attorney. You may only have a limited amount of time to respond to the claim as different deadlines and procedures may apply depending on the nature of the claim and the agency from which it comes from. It is imperative to promptly speak to an attorney before filing a property recovery claim because filing a careless claim may subject you to further criminal prosecution.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your lawful property been seized using civil asset forfeiture in South Florida? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.