Minnesota Supreme Court Rules that Innocent Property Owners Have Right to Swift Hearing Following Law Enforcement Seizures

Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · March 13, 2019

Minneapolis—This morning, the Minnesota Supreme Court took a step toward protecting innocent people whose property has been taken by law enforcement. The court ruled that innocent owners are entitled to prompt post-seizure hearings and ordered the return of a car that has been held by the Shakopee Police Department for 18 months. While the car was seized in a valid traffic stop, the car’s innocent co-owner had no opportunity to request her property’s return in court.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case, urging the Minnesota Supreme Court to follow the lead of courts in Illinois, Indiana, New York, Oregon and the District of Columbia in deciding that innocent owners must be afforded a prompt post-seizure hearing. In the opinion released today, the court wrote that: “due process urgently requires a prompt hearing on innocent-owner defenses.” It further noted that courts carefully scrutinize proceedings where, “the agency making the decision has a pecuniary interest in the outcome.”

“Today’s decision is a victory for the rights of Minnesotans who have done nothing wrong but still see law enforcement seize and hold their cars, cash or other property for months or years,” said IJ attorney Jaimie Cavanaugh. “It only makes sense that innocent owners should be granted a hearing within days of law enforcement seizing their property. Because of today’s result, there will now be additional scrutiny on law enforcement practices that amount to policing for profit.”