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FORFEITURE - vehicle's use, not driver's involvement, regarding vehicle forfeiture

STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
A06-2396
Chad Scott Mastakoski,
Appellant,
vs.
2003 Dodge Durango, VIN
#1D8HS78Z13F530764,
Respondent.
Filed September 11, 2007
Affirmed
Willis, Judge
Concurring specially, Randall, Judge
St. Louis County District Court
File No. 69HI-CV-06-266
Rachel C. Delich-Sullivan, 1932 Second Avenue East, Suite 2, Hibbing, MN 55746 (for
appellant)
Melanie S. Ford, St. Louis County Attorney, Thomas G. Stanley, Assistant County
Attorney, 100 North Fifth Avenue West, #501, Duluth, MN 55802-1298 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
Under the vehicle-forfeiture statute, Minn. Stat. 169A.63 (2006), a vehicle is
subject to forfeiture if it was used in the commission of a designated offense, even if
the driver is not convicted of that offense.
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O P I N I O N
WILLIS, Judge
Appellant challenges the forfeiture of his vehicle, arguing that because he was not
convicted of the designated offense on which the forfeiture was based, the forfeiture was
unlawful. Because we conclude that a vehicle is subject to forfeiture under the vehicleforfeiture
statute if it was used in the commission of a designated offense, even if the
driver was not convicted of that offense, and because here it is undisputed that appellant
committed a designated offense, we affirm.
FACTS
On July 10, 2006, appellant Chad Mastakoski was arrested for driving while
impaired (DWI). Although he took a preliminary breath test in the field, appellant
refused to take an alcohol-concentration test after his arrest. Appellant had been
convicted of gross-misdemeanor DWI in 2000. He was charged in the case before us
with second-degree refusal to test, in violation of Minn. Stat. 169A.20, subd. 2 (2004);
and third-degree DWI, in violation of Minn. Stat. 169A.20, subd. 1(1) (2004).
Appellants vehicle was towed, his license plates were taken, and he received a notice of
seizure and intent to forfeit vehicle. Appellant petitioned the district court for a judicial
decision regarding the forfeiture of his vehicle and demanded its return, arguing that the
police had no probable cause to stop his vehicle and no articulable basis for believing that
he had been drinking alcohol.
Appellant pleaded guilty to third-degree DWI, and the state dismissed the charge
of second-degree refusal to test. The parties submitted to the district court, on stipulated
-3-
facts, the issue of whether appellants vehicle was lawfully forfeited. Appellant argued
that because he was not convicted of second-degree refusal to test and the forfeiture was
based on that designated offense, the forfeiture was unlawful. The district court
concluded that appellants vehicle was subject to forfeiture, and this appeal follows.
ISSUES
I. Was appellants vehicle lawfully subject to forfeiture under the vehicleforfeiture
statute even though he was not convicted of the designated offense on which
the forfeiture was based?
II. Is the vehicle-forfeiture statute unconstitutionally vague?
ANALYSIS
I.
Appellant argues that because he was not convicted of second-degree refusal to
testthe charge was dismissed in accordance with his plea agreementand the
forfeiture was based on that designated offense, the forfeiture was unlawful.
Resolution of this issue requires interpretation of the forfeiture statute, Minn. Stat.
169A.63 (2006). Statutory interpretation is a question of law, subject to de novo
review. See State v. Stevenson, 656 N.W.2d 235, 238 (Minn. 2003). When interpreting a
statute, the role of this court is to determine the legislatures intent. See id. Appellate
courts must first decide whether the statutes language, on its face, is clear or ambiguous.
Id. If a statute is unambiguous, a court must apply its plain meaning. State by Beaulieu
v. RSJ, Inc., 552 N.W.2d 695, 701 (Minn. 1996).
-4-
The forfeiture statute provides that [a] motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture under
this section if it was used in the commission of a designated offense or was used in
conduct resulting in a designated license revocation. Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subd. 6(a)
(2006). The definition of a designated offense includes a violation of section 169A.20
(driving while impaired) under the circumstances described in section 169A.24 (firstdegree
driving while impaired), or 169A.25 (second-degree driving while impaired).
Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subd. 1(e)(1).
There is no dispute that appellants refusal to test while having a DWI conviction
within the preceding ten years (which is within the definition of second-degree DWI) is a
designated offense. In concluding that appellants car was lawfully subject to forfeiture,
the district court noted that appellant had not been convicted of refusal to test but
concluded that [t]he entire record, including this court taking judicial notice of the
criminal case, establishes that [appellant] did in fact refuse to submit to chemical testing
under circumstances where all of the elements of that offense, 169A.20, subd. 2, have
been established as a matter of fact and therefore that appellant committed a designated
offense under the forfeiture statute.
Appellant argues that a person must be convicted of a designated offense for the
vehicle used to be subject to forfeiture. He relies on Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subd. 7,
entitled Limitations on vehicle forfeiture, which provides that [a] vehicle is presumed
subject to forfeiture under this section if . . . the driver is convicted of the designated
offense upon which the forfeiture is based. Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subd. 7(a)(1).
-5-
Appellant points to two district-court opinions concluding that a defendant must
be convicted of a designated offense for his vehicle to be subject to forfeiture. But
district-court opinions are not binding on this court. And regardless, district courts have
been divided on the issue. Appellant points also to three opinions of this court
concluding that a vehicle was subject to forfeiture because the driver had been convicted
of a designated offense. See City of New Brighton v. 2000 Ford Excursion, 622 N.W.2d
364, 367 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Apr. 17, 2001); Hawes v. 1997 Jeep
Wrangler, 602 N.W.2d 874, 876 (Minn. App. 1999); City of New Hope v. 1986 Mazda
626, 546 N.W.2d 300, 301 (Minn. App. 1996). But these opinions do not address the
issue of whether the vehicles would have been subject to forfeiture absent a conviction.
The state argues that the plain language of the forfeiture statute, as well as the
legislative intent and the purpose of the statute (protecting the public from impaired
drivers), supports a determination that a conviction is not necessary for the vehicle used
in the commission of an offense to be subject to forfeiture. As the state notes, this issue
has been addressed by Minnesota appellate courts only in a special concurrence in Garde
v. One 1992 Ford Explorer XLT, 662 N.W.2d 165, 167 (Minn. App. 2003). In Garde, the
appellants vehicle was seized after he was charged with first-degree DWI but before he
had been convicted of a designated offense. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree
DWI. Id. at 166. Because the majority determined that the appellant had failed to
properly serve his demand for judicial determination of forfeiture as the forfeiture statute
requires, it declined to address whether the appellant had committed a designated offense.
Id. at 167. But the special concurrence noted its disagreement with the district courts
-6-
determination that for a vehicle to be subject to forfeiture, the driver must be convicted of
first-degree DWI.1 Garde, 662 N.W.2d at 167 (Minge, J., concurring specially). The
statute at that time described a designated offense as a conviction of DWI under the
circumstances described in the first-degree DWI statute. Although the driver ultimately
pleaded guilty to second-degree DWI, it was undisputed that the driver had previous
driving offenses that would have supported a conviction of first-degree DWI, so he was
convicted of DWI under the circumstances described in the first-degree DWI statute.
Therefore, the special concurrence concluded, the vehicle was subject to forfeiture even
though the driver was not actually convicted of first-degree DWI. Id.
Although it is not precedential, the Garde concurrence supports an interpretation
of the forfeiture statute that would not require appellant to have been convicted of the
designated offense, provided that he committed the designated offense.
We agree with the district courts interpretation of the forfeiture statute. We
construe a statute as a whole and interpret it, whenever possible, to give effect to all of its
provisionsno word, phrase, or sentence should be deemed superfluous, void, or
insignificant. Am. Family Ins. Group v. Schroedl, 616 N.W.2d 273, 277 (Minn. 2000)
(quoting Amaral v. St. Cloud Hosp., 598 N.W.2d 379, 384 (Minn. 1999)). Although
subdivision 7 of the statute requires that a driver was convicted of the designated
offense to create a presumption of forfeiture, subdivision 6 requires only that a vehicle
1 The vehicle-forfeiture statute that applied when Garde was decided defined a
designated offense as a first-degree DWI. Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subd. 1(d)(1) (2000).
The definition was later amended to include a second-degree DWI. Minn. Laws 2001,
ch. 8, art. 11, 11; Minn. Laws 2001, ch. 9, art. 19, 12.
-7-
was used in the commission of a designated offense to make it subject to forfeiture.
Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subds. 6, 7(a)(1). The legislature thus knew how to use the words
convicted of when it intended to. To render a vehicle subject to forfeiture, it did not
use those words.
Additionally, as the state notes, subdivision 7 was amended in 2004. Minn. Laws
2004, ch. 235, 3 to 8 at 728-34. Before the amendment, the subdivision provided that
[a] vehicle is subject to forfeiture under this section only if . . . the driver is convicted of
the designated offense. Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subd. 7(a)(1) (2002) (emphasis added).
It was amended to its current language, which is [a] vehicle is presumed subject to
forfeiture under this section if . . . the driver is convicted of the designated offense, and
subdivision 6 provides that a vehicle is subject to forfeiture . . . if it was used in the
commission of a designated offense. Minn. Stat. 169A.63, subds. 6, 7(a)(1) (2006).
We assume that such a change in language was not inadvertent.
The statute is not ambiguous. By its plain language, the statute does not require
that a driver be convicted of a designated offense for the vehicle used to be subject to
forfeiture. Commission of a designated offense is sufficient, and here it is undisputed
that appellant committed a designated offense. His vehicle was, therefore, subject to
forfeiture under Minn. Stat. 169A.63.
II.
Appellant also argues that the forfeiture statute encourages arbitrary enforcement
and, as a result, is void for vagueness. The state argues that because appellant did not
raise a constitutional challenge to the statute in the district court, he cannot raise it for the
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first time on appeal. The state is correct. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582
(Minn. 1988). But even if we were to evaluate appellants constitutional argument on the
merits, we would reject it. A party challenging the constitutionality of a statute has the
burden of demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that a constitutional provision has
been violated. In re Haggerty, 448 N.W.2d 363, 364 (Minn. 1989); see also Miller
Brewing Co. v. State, 284 N.W.2d 353, 356 (Minn. 1979) (stating that a person
challenging the constitutionality of a statute must demonstrate[] beyond a reasonable
doubt that the statute violates some constitutional provision). Appellant points only to
inconsistent application of the statute in the Minnesota district courts to support his
argument. But he provides no authority to support his contention that inconsistent
application by district courts renders a statute unconstitutionally vague. And
interpretation of the statute by this court should prevent any further inconsistency.
D E C I S I O N
Because we conclude that a vehicle is subject to forfeiture under Minn. Stat.
169A.63 (2006) if it is used in the commission of a designated offense, even if the
driver was not convicted of that offense, and because here it is undisputed that appellant
committed a designated offense, his vehicle was lawfully forfeited.
Affirmed.
CS-1
RANDALL, Judge (concurring specially)
I concur in the result.
 

 
 
 

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