Minnesota’s forfeiture law is coming under heavy scrutiny once again. If you’re unfamiliar, the controversial law allows police to seize and sell someone’s personal property then pocket the proceeds. Criticism mounted once again after state police seized a woman’s vehicle at a drunk driving stop in December 2019, then forced the owner to buy it back. The only thing was the woman wasn’t even driving the vehicle or convicted of a crime.
Many critics have called the law “policing for profit” and want the law reformed. If this case is any precedent then it means that Minnesota State Patrol can take your vehicle and then sell it, even if you hadn’t even committed a crime.
The woman in question, Emma Dietrich, paid thousands to buy back her 2013 Chevy Camaro that she already owned outright.
“I really hate that I had to do a buy-back, but mentally, financially, emotionally, I can’t handle this case being in limbo for maybe two more years,” Dietrich said in an interview to KSTP News.
Dietrich’s Camaro was one of over 14,000 vehicles seized by Minnesota’s forfeiture law, generating $10 million in revenue in just three years.
From 2017 to 2019, the majority of funds generated from the forfeiture law went right into law enforcement’s salaries.
The unfortunate thing for 22-year-old Emma Dietrich is that she was trying to do the right thing. On the night her vehicle was seized, Dietrich had been drinking and asked if her friend could get behind the wheel instead.
“I didn’t really feel comfortable driving home, so one of my coworkers was like, ‘I can give you a ride home,'” Dietrich said.
Dietrich says she did not know the coworker who took her keys had a prior DWI.
Dietrich was in the passenger seat when police pulled her vehicle over with the driver, Syrgeo Perez, 30, in the driver’s seat. When Perez refused a breathalyzer, he was arrested on suspicion of DWI and troopers seized Dietrich’s car using Minnesota’s forfeiture law.
A black 2013 Chevy Camaro, similar to Emma Dietrich’s vehicle that was seized by police in December 2019.
Though Perez was detained for breaking the law, Dietrich was held responsible despite never being charged. So why was her vehicle seized? Well, according to police, Dietrich was the one at fault for allowing Perez to drive despite her trying to do the right thing by not driving while intoxicated. So whose fault was it anyway? That’s where the legal grey area comes into play.
Dietrich hired a lawyer to challenge the bizarre case but was ultimately hampered by the lengthy legal process. After seven months without the car she rightfully owned and paid for, Dietrich caved and paid the $4,000 to get her vehicle back from the police.
But just when Dietrich thought the legal nightmare was now behind her even more insult was added to injury. Her Camaro is now legally required to display “whiskey plates” which help officers identify drivers with past drunk-driving convictions– a crime that once again, Dietrich was never even charged or convicted of!
The last question I would like to pose though, is how do these laws make anybody any safer? It is one thing to impound the vehicles of those convicted of crimes but where is the justice if this punishment can now extend to those who are unconvicted?