Minnesota Supreme Court rules that counties cannot seize homes of convicted drug dealers
OLIVIA -- Renville and Yellow Medicine counties cannot seize the homes of two convicted drug dealers, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. In a decision authored by Chief Justice Russell Anderson, the state's high court af-firmed a Cour...
OLIVIA -- Renville and Yellow Medicine counties cannot seize the homes of two convicted drug dealers, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
In a decision authored by Chief Justice Russell Anderson, the state's high court af-firmed a Court of Appeals ruling that the Minnesota Constitution prevents the taking of a homestead property un-der the state's drug forfeiture law. Minnesota's forfeiture st-atute makes "real property used in the unlawful manufacturing of controlled substances subject to forfeiture." The portion of this law that applies to homestead property is not constitutional, based on the ruling.
The case was heard and affirmed by the entire court. Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea wrote a separate, concurring decision.
She voiced the opinion that the matter could have been decided based on the language of the statutes and not as a constitutional issue.
The fact that the court decided the case as a constitutional matter is significant. It means that it would take an amendment to the state constitution to change Minnesota's homestead protection to allow for the forfeiture of drug homes, according to Renville County Attorney David Torgelson.
He and Yellow Medicine County Attorney Keith Helgeson said the decision is likely to have statewide implications. Helgeson said the decision will make it much more difficult to seize drug houses, and could encourage drug dealers to operate out of their homes.
Helgeson said the court made it clear that the decision applies only to the real property protected by the homestead law. The property and assets beyond what is protected by the homestead law could still be subject to forfeiture.
As a practical matter, most drug cases in rural counties involve homes with values that would come under the homestead protection, Helgeson said.
The court combined the Renville and Yellow Medicine cases to consider the identical legal issues they raised.
In the Renville County case, the district court had initially allowed the taking of a rural Sacred Heart home from Kent Vernon Feigum, 60. Law officers found a marijuana growing operation in the home, complete with growing lights, drying racks and sophisticated security equipment including body heat sensors, night vision optics and eight long guns. He pleaded guilty to a felony drug sale charge in February 2006, according to court records.
He was sentenced to three years in prison, but it was stayed, provided he serve180 days in jail.
The title to the home had been flagged as the case progressed through the appeals process, according to the Torgelson.
In Yellow Medicine County, the county attorney's office had sought to seize the home of Luverne W. Johnson, 52, in Granite Falls. Johnson was convicted of selling and distributing methamphetamine and marijuana, and admitted to having used his home for years to distribute the drugs, according to court records. Offices seized large quantities of both drugs in an October 2005 raid of the home.
Johnson is currently incarcerated at the medium-security facility in Lino Lakes, according to Department of Corrections records.
The defendants were represented by Attorney John Mack of New London.
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