Minnesota’s DWI laws aim to curb drunk driving and impaired driving. Likewise, these laws punish those guilty of the committing this crime.

There are four degrees of DWI in Minnesota that range in seriousness. The most serious DWIs are felonies with punishments of up to seven years in prison and fines of up to $14,000. DWIs can also be less serious gross misdemeanors or misdemeanors.

An Overview of Minnesota DWI Laws

Driving while impaired is illegal throughout the United States. It is sometimes referred to as DUI or “driving under the influence”. DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated”. It is an offense that often calls for immediate arrest and includes both criminal and administrative penalties.

The severity of an alleged DWI incident depends on several factors. These include the driver’s level of intoxication and any prior DWI convictions on record.

Minnesota DWI laws apply to any person who is operating a vehicle—or being in “actual physical control” of a vehicle. Meaning, one can be guilty of a DWI by sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys nearby—while impaired by either alcohol or some type of drug.

Someone driving could also be guilty of DWI if he or she had any amount of schedule I or II drugs in their system, not including marijuana or THC.

DWIs for Commercial Drivers

DWI laws in the state of Minnesota include all drivers, including commercial drivers (those with a CDL).

In fact, the statutes are more strict when it comes to commercial drivers. The BAC limit for a commercial motor vehicles is 0.04% within two hours, not 0.08%. It is lower because an impaired commercial driver will likely be more dangerous on the road, with a larger, more destructive vehicle.

BAC Limits in Minnesota

As mentioned, the state’s blood alcohol concentration limit is set at 0.08% for most drivers. Testing at the scene with a breathalyzer determines your blood alcohol levels. The police may also test you at the police station with a more sophisticated device. A defense attorney may be able to raise a reasonable doubt about a defendant’s BAC test results. However, these tests are usually reliable indicators that someone was too intoxicated to drive.

Additional BAC Laws

A BAC of 0.16% or higher elevates a DWI offense to a higher level – often called an “aggravating factor.”

For drivers under the age of 21, the state of Minnesota has a zero-tolerance law. This means that any driver under 21 cannot have a BAC above 0.0%.

Minn Stat. 169A.33 states that if a person under the age of 21 drives after drinking alcohol, the driver is guilty of a misdemeanor.

For example, if you are 18 and blow 0.03 on a breathalyzer, you would be guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalty can include driver’s license suspension for 30 or 180 days. This depends on whether the driver has prior DWIs on their record.

Aggravating Factors in Minnesota DWIs

In addition to a blood-alcohol level of 0.16% or higher, Minnesota law identifies two other aggravating factors for DWI offenses:

  • A BAC of 0.16% or higher.
  • The driver has a previous DWI within 10 years of this DWI charge.
  • A child 15 or younger is present with driving intoxicated. (The driver must be more than three years older than the child.)

Implied Consent Law and Test Refusal

Some drivers charged with a DWI refuse to take a breathalyzer. They fear the authorities will use the results as evidence against them in court. While this may seem like a smart move, in Minnesota, refusing a breathalyzer is a crime.
The state of Minnesota, like most states, has what’s called an “Implied Consent law”. The law states that any person operating a vehicle in the state has automatically agreed to a blood alcohol test. In other words, in exchange for the privilege to drive, drivers must consent to a breathalyzer.

Thus, if any motorist refuses to submit to chemical testing, the law considers them guilty of a gross misdemeanor. The consequences can include revoking your driver’s license for at least a year.

Minnesota law requires officers, deputies, or troopers to get a warrant if they want a urine or blood sample for BAC testing.
However, a warrant is not needed to get a breath sample. To get a warrant for a urine or blood sample, the officer must prove that they have probable cause the driver is guilty of a DWI.

There are defenses to charges of DWI test refusal, however they are extremely difficult to litigate. Therefore, it is crucial that you get an experienced lawyer to help you.

Criminal Penalties for Minnesota DWI Conviction

A DWI charge in the state of Minnesota results in both administrative and criminal penalties.

In a criminal court, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant impaired by alcohol or drugs while operating a vehicle.

1st-Degree Felony DWI

Minnesota designates DWIs as felonies when any of the following occur:

  • The most recent DWI is the offender’s fourth DWI conviction in 10 years.
  • There is a previous felony DWI conviction.
  • The offender has a previous conviction for criminal vehicular homicide or criminal vehicular injury in which alcohol or drugs were involved.

A felony DWI conviction in Minnesota is punishable by a up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $14,000.

2nd-Degree DWI

Second degree DWIs in Minnesota are gross misdemeanors. This applies when there are two aggravating factors present or a test refusal with one aggravating factor.

Penalties for 2nd-degree gross misdemeanor DWI in Minnesota include include up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $3,000.

3rd-Degree DWI

Third degree DWIs in Minnesota are also charged as gross misdemeanors. This applies when there is one aggravating factor or a test refusal.

Penalties for 3rd-degree gross misdemeanor DWI in Minnesota include include up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $3,000.

4th-Degree DWI

If it is the defendant’s first DWI charge, with no aggravating factors, he or she is facing a misdemeanor charge.

The penalties for a fourth degree misdemeanor DWI include jail a maximum of 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Additionally, all DWIs are subject to harsher penalties if the offense results in property damage, a vehicle accident, physical injuries, or death.

Administrative Penalties for DWI in Minnesota

In addition to criminal penalties, a DWI offender also faces administrative penalties.

If your work depends on the ability to drive, you may find these administrative penalties extremely challenging.

These are the three most common types of administrative penalties. Each affect a driver’s ability to legally operate a car.

Driver’s License Revocation

Minnesota’s most common administrative penalty for DWI is the loss of driving privileges. The cancellation begins immediately after a DWI arrest. Although, defendants are usually issued a seven-day temporary driver’s license to use before the suspension.

How Long Will I Lose My License?

The length of revocation depends on factors like the number of prior DWI convictions on your record. First-time offenders will lose their driving privileges for 90 days if the BAC was below 0.16% (180 days if the driver is under 21).

Entering a guilty plea reduces the revocation period to 30 days, provided the driver is over 21. Having a BAC of 0.16% or more increases the revocation period to one year, as does test refusal.

When the DWI is a second offense within 10 years, the revocation period increases to one or two years, depending on aggravating factors.

The longest revocation period is six years, which applies when the offender has five or more DWIs.

Commercial driver’s license holders face stiffer revocations than non-commercial drivers. A first offense or test refusal results in a one-year revocation of CDL privileges. A second offense results in losing your CDL for life.

Minnesota offers drivers two options to continue driving during their revocation period. These include a limited license and Minnesota’s Ignition Interlock program.

A limited license allows driving only for essential functions like work and childcare. It is only available for certain types of DWIs. Ignition Interlock is more broadly available. It is often a defendant’s only option, apart from abstaining from driving for the entire revocation period.

License Plate Impoundment

Depending on the circumstances of your DWI and your criminal history, the police may impound your license plates. They can also issue a notice of impoundment requiring that you surrender the plates to a law enforcement agency.  Minn. Stat. 169A.60 outlines plate impoundment and the need for special registration plates (sometimes called “whiskey plates”) during the impoundment period.

Plate impoundment applies to all the motor vehicles you own or lease, not just the vehicle involved in the DWI. This includes vehicles you own jointly or alone.

This consequence often affects family members, such as a spouse, child, or parent who co-owns a vehicle.

Minnesota’s law prohibits giving or selling a co-owned vehicle to the other owner if that person is a household or family member to avoid impoundment.

Vehicle Forfeiture

First and second-degree DWIs are almost always accompanied by vehicle forfeiture proceedings. DWI defendants have 60 days to file a challenge to the forfeiture. Filings require paperwork and a paying the filing fee.

Not every challenge will result in the return of a seized vehicle. Therefore, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney about this issue. There are some circumstances that increase the likelihood of getting a vehicle back, including the innocent owner defense.

Enrolling in the Ignition Interlock program can be another way to save a vehicle from government forfeiture.

How to Challenge a Minnesota DWI Charge

Given the significant, life-changing penalties of a DWI conviction, it is worth working with a defense attorney. Cases that seem unwinnable may have defenses to minimize consequences. Positive outcomes could include convincing a prosecutor to dismiss or reduce charges. Likewise, a defense attorney could persuade a judge to suppress evidence, resulting in a dismissal.

Unlawful Stops and Investigations

There are several ways officers can make mistakes or bend the rules while arresting a DWI offender, which might be useful in your defense.

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable government searches. This means that law enforcement needs to have “reasonable suspicion” to stop a vehicle and investigate a suspected DWI.

There are several ways officers can make mistakes or bend the rules while arresting a DWI offender, which might be useful in your defense.

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable government searches. This means that law enforcement needs to have “reasonable suspicion” to stop a vehicle and investigate a suspected DWI.

Lawyers should always investigate the validity of a stop in a DWI case. In addition, your attorney should look into the expansion of a stop. Meaning, whether an officer was justified in questioning the driver and administering field sobriety tests.

Improper Testing

There are various aspects of DWI testing that a defense attorney can explore for government error, including:

  • Faulty field sobriety tests (such as unclear instructions, and improper test scoring)
  • Inaccurate PBT or DataMaster equipment
  • Broken chain of custody for blood or urine testing

Post-driving Consumption

In rare instances, a defense attorney can cast doubt that a driver was impaired while driving. Your attorney may be able to show that the consumption of alcohol occurred once the driver was no longer operating the vehicle.

Find a DWI Defense Attorney Near Me

The attorneys at Ringstrom Law are here to help you or your loved mitigate the damages of a DWI charges.

We have achieved not guilty verdicts in DWI jury trials and have successfully suppressed evidence in many DWI cases.

Get in touch with us today at 218-284-0484 to review your case.

Call Ringstrom Law For Help
Home » Practice Areas » DWI