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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The innocence of the joint vehicle owner

The Court of Appeals today ruled that a jointly-owned vehicle should not be forfeited based on the illegal conduct of one of its owners when the other owner proves by clear and convincing evidence that he or she did not know the vehicle would be used illegally.

In Laase v. 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, a case of first impression, the wife pled guilty to second-degree DWI-refusal to test, and had a prior conviction. The husband persuaded the trial court that he did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used illegally. This innocent-owner offense is set forth in Minn. Stat. sec. 169A.63, subd. 7(d) but has never been applied in a joint owner situation. The appellate court did not elaborate on the nature of the husband’s proof and said that the statute should be liberally construed.

Judge James C. Harten wrote the opinion, in which Judge Matthew E. Johnson concurred. Judge Kevin G. Ross dissented.

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