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If your alcohol-concentration level is 0.08 or higher (0.04 in a commercial vehicle) and you are in control of a moving or parked vehicle, you can be arrested for DWI. If a law enforcement officer can prove that alcohol caused you to commit driving errors, you can be convicted of DWI at lower alcohol concentrations.
Each year, over 30,000 people are arrested in Minnesota for DWI. Each person may experience unique criminal penalties in addition to administrative license sanctions, depending on the arrest situation and previous driving violations and criminal record. The following information serves as a guideline for penalties and sanctions you may experience if you are arrested for impaired driving. There are additional laws, penalties, and sanctions for individuals under 21. These guidelines are based on offenses that occur within 10 years.
DWI charges are based on how the offense is categorized. There are 4 different degrees. They are: First Degree DWI, Second Degree DWI, Third Degree DWI, and Fourth Degree DWI. First Degree is the worst and packs the most severe penalties. The sentence that is imposed by a judge depends on which degree a person is charged and convicted with.
First Degree DWI
If you have had 3 or more DWI offenses within the past 10 years, then you could be charged with a First Degree DWI in Minnesota. Even if you have not had 3 or more DWI offenses within the past year, a prior felony conviction can also place you within the First Degree DWI level.
Second Degree DWI
If two or more aggravating factors are present, an individual can be charged with Second Degree DWI. Those DWI aggravating factors include:
- An incident within the past 10 years in which a person was driving impaired. These are convictions before the present charge, and include prior alcohol license revocations, even if you were not convicted of the DWI.
- Having a blood alcohol level of .20 or more at the time of the offense or within two hours of the offense.
- Having a child under the age of 16 present in the vehicle at the time or if the minor child is more than 36 months younger than the driver.
Third Degree DWI
In Third Degree DWI, there only needs to be one aggravating factor present at the time of violation. A Third Degree DWI will be charged as a gross misdemeanor, which can be just as bad as a felony in many cases. All test refusals are at least third degree crimes.
Fourth Degree DWI
A Fourth Degree DWI tends to be charged to first time offenders and also applies to those driving boats. It is unlawful to drive while intoxicated on any surface in Minnesota, including bodies of water.
Here are the factors that come into play:
- Being intoxicated by alcohol
- Being under the influence of a controlled substance
- When knowingly under the influence of a substance that is considered hazardous and that substance has an effect on the nervous system, muscles, or brain to the point that a person is too impaired to operate a motor vehicle.
- When a commercial motor vehicle is involved and the driver of that vehicle has a blood alcohol level of over .04 at the time of the offense or within 2 hours of the offense.
- When other substances are present within a person’s system. This includes most drugs except tetrahydrocannabinols or marijuana.
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All alcohol-related revocations of a driver’s license require a $680 reinstatement fee, DWI knowledge test, a driver’s license application with fees, and a chemical assessment.
DUI can be an acronym for “driving under the influence.” DWI can be short for “driving while impaired.” While in some states both terms are used and may have different meanings, in Minnesota there is no difference. Both are abbreviations referring to Minnesota Statutes Chapter 169A, entitled “driving while impaired.” While “DWI” seems to better reflect this Chapter of Minnesota Statutes, “DUI” is more commonly used throughout the United States. Since there is no distinction in Minnesota, here either term may be used interchangeably.
Testing at .20 or more
In Minnesota, if your alcohol test result is a .20 or greater you will be charged with a gross-misdemeanor crime even if you are a first time offender. The .20 or greater test is what is called an “aggravating factor” which increases the severity of the offense. A gross-misdemeanor is a much more serious charge that will normally carry executed jail time as a consequence. Additionally, a person’s driver’s license revocation time will be double the amount of the standard revocation time period for a .08 or more violation.
Defending cases involving a .20 or greater alcohol concentration requires a whole new set of legal expertise. A good DWI lawyer must know how to vigorously argue and attack a .20 or greater DWI charge.
Refusing to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test is an automatic gross-misdemeanor crime in Minnesota regardless of a person’s driving record. A person who refuses to test will also be facing a one year revocation of their driving privileges. If the driver has three prior DWI convictions or alcohol revocations within the past ten years, the present offense would be a felony DWI.
Winning a Refusal case is very difficult yet very necessary. Your DWI attorney must be proficient in Refusal law and be able to successfully litigate the charge.
Minnesota law proscribes different charges and penalties for DWIs on the basis of what’s legally termed as Aggravating Factors. An aggravating factor is one or more of a particular set of facts that may be present in a DWI charge. They include:
- Number of prior convictions within the last 10 years
- Number of prior driver’s license alcohol revocations within the last 10 years
- .20 or more alcohol concentration
- Having a child younger than 16 years of age in the car at the time of the DWI
- Refusing to submit to chemical testing.
The basic rule of thumb is that the more aggravating factors you have, the more serious the charge and the greater likelihood that you’ll serve jail or prison time.
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Drivers’ alcohol levels are measured in three ways.
- Breath tests (Intoxylizer)
- Blood tests, and/or
- Urine tests.
Each testing procedure has different rules, standards, applications, and legal requirements for admissibility in court. A DWI lawyer must be conversant in all manners of testing. A DWI defense attorney must know the scientific and legal requirements attached to each testing procedure. Attorney Nick Gegen knows how to legally analyze ALL testing and the procedures used.
Minnesota DWI laws are quite strict in an effort to keep drunk drivers off of the road. There have been many fatalities as a result of drunk drivers, so the laws are designed to save lives.
However, people do make mistakes and even when mistakes are made, people do have rights. Although you may feel guilty, don’t let that deter you from acquiring the proper legal representation to make sure you get a much better outcome. There have been instances in which charges have been completely dismissed, an individual has been acquitted, or the penalty has been reduced significantly.
First Time DWI
If you are a first time offender, you will be happy to know that approximately 85% of first time offenders are never arrested for DWI again. However, no one wants to be arrested for DWI because driving privileges can be taken away completely or partially taken away. You may also have to attend classes. If your blood alcohol concentration was less than .20, then you can count on the conviction being a misdemeanor. Up to 90 days in jail is possible, as is a fine of $1,000. A reading of over .20 will constitute a gross misdemeanor that holds a fine of $3,000 and up to a year in jail.
Second Time DWI
If you’re a second time offender, then the police have most likely taken your license plates and possibly your car. You may also be electronically monitored before you ever go to court to make sure you don’t consume any alcohol and you are responsible for the monitoring costs. If this is your second offense in ten years, then you have most likely been charged with a gross misdemeanor. This holds a penalty of a year in jail and/or fines up to $3,000. The mandatory minimum is 30 days in jail and eight hours community service every single day under 30 days that you are not in jail. At least 48 hours of jail time must be served.
Third and Fourth DWI
The third and fourth Minnesota DWI offenses have even harsher penalties. You may never see your car again, you could be sentenced up to 90 days in jail with 30 of those days served consecutively, may have to undergo program intensive supervision with at least 6 days spent in jail, and your driving privileges may be completely taken away. The fourth offense will constitute a felony. The fine could be $14,000 and a three year prison term could come with it. Even if part of the sentence is stayed, 180 days must be served.