Supreme Court: Couple must give up SUV for wife's DWIby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A vehicle owned by two people can be seized by authorities even if only one of them has been convicted of a crime, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled.
In a 4-3 decision issued Thursday, the Supreme Court reversed rulings by the Court of Appeals and the district court, both of which had sided with David Laase of Cambridge. The Supreme Court said Laase can't use the state's "innocent owner defense" to avoid forfeiture of the couple's 2007 Chevy Tahoe.
Laase's wife, Jean, was arrested for drunken driving in May 2006 while driving the Tahoe home from a golf club. She later pleaded guilty in Isanti County to second-degree criminal test refusal, which allows the county to seize the vehicle the offender was driving.
The county asked the Supreme Court to review the case after the Court of Appeals ruled in Laase's favor.
Laase had argued that he didn't know his wife was drinking that night, and therefore didn't know the SUV would be used to commit a crime.
But the Supreme Court argued that the forfeiture law making an exception for an innocent owner doesn't apply when a vehicle is co-owned and one of the owners is not innocent.
"Because Ms. Laase is both an owner and the offender, we hold that the 'innocent owner' defense does not apply, and that the vehicle was properly forfeitable," Justice Lori Gildea wrote in the majority opinion.
Justice Paul Anderson dissented, saying he doesn't believe the Legislature intended for an innocent joint owner to have his or her vehicle taken away. He also said seizing people's property is one of the greatest powers government has.
"Because this power is so awesome and disfavored, we have in the past, and must continue to, narrowly construe statutes authorizing its use," Anderson wrote.
Gildea wrote in the majority opinion that the ruling "may be open to question on policy grounds." But she said lawmakers will have to decide what the policy should be.
"It is the role of the Legislature, not the courts, to rewrite the statute to provide greater protection for private property," she wrote.