Helping Those Charged With DWI Protect Their Rights

Being arrested and charged with an alcohol or a drug-related driving offense is a common occurrence in Minnesota. In many cases, drivers arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI/DUI) simply have no idea that they are over the legal limit since they don't actually feel drunk or impaired, not to mention police often stop them for completely unrelated offenses such as having a cracked/inoperative tail-light, speeding or failing to signal a turn.

Regardless of the circumstances of your arrest, you need to take DWI charges seriously, especially since there is much more at stake than a simple fine ― like possible jail time and the loss of your license. If you have been arrested for a DWI offense, you will need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you understand your options and fight to protect your rights.

Facing a DWI charge? You need a tough lawyer by your side. For a FREE legal consultation, call Meshbesher & Associates 24 hours a day at 612-332-2000. You can even reach us online. From our Minneapolis office, we serve clients throughout Minnesota. Don't go it alone ― contact us today for help.

Drunk Driving Charges In Minnesota: The Basics

As you are probably aware, the legal limit for blood alcohol content is .08 percent in Minnesota ― but that is not the only basis for a DWI charge. In fact, you can be charged with DWI for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, for having a prohibited blood-alcohol content (.08 percent or higher), for testing positive for the presence of any Schedule I or II controlled substance (including opiates, hallucinogens, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc.) or for driving a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .04 percent or more.

Beyond that, the only other prerequisite factor is that you were driving, operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle at the time of the arrest or within two hours of chemical testing. Cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, ATVs and even golf carts count. So regardless of the vehicle you are in, you should be aware of the potential consequences.

In Minnesota, there are four degrees of DWI crimes, and they are enhanceable offenses ― meaning if you are convicted again within a 10-year period you will face even more severe penalties, including more jail time, higher fines, longer supervision periods and additional civil penalties. Also, there are three aggravating factors that may increase the severity of your offense, including 1) having a prior qualified offense within 10 years; 2) having an alcohol concentration of .16 percent or more (double the legal limit); and 3) having a child under the age of 16 in the car.

The four DWI degrees in Minnesota can be broken down as follows:

  • Fourth-Degree DWI: A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. This is the typical offense charged for first-time offenders with no aggravating factor present.
  • Third-Degree DWI: A gross misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine. First-time offenders with a single aggravating factor or second-time offenders are typically charged with this offense.
  • Second-Degree DWI: Also a gross misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine. First-time offenders with two or more aggravating factors or third-time offenders are typically charged with this offense.
  • First-Degree DWI: A felony, punishable by three to seven years in prison and/or a $14,000 fine. These are generally mandatory penalties and the courts have very limited discretion in imposing a lesser sentence if convicted. Typically, you will be charged with a first-degree DWI if you have had three prior offenses within a 10-year period, or if you have ever been previously convicted of a first-degree DWI in your lifetime.

What Happens If I Refuse A Breath Test?

If you are arrested for a DWI offense, you will be asked by law enforcement to provide a blood, breath or urine sample for chemical testing. It is currently a crime in Minnesota to refuse chemical testing, with two exceptions: You can lawfully refuse a blood test and request either urine or breath testing, OR you can lawfully refuse a urine test and request either blood or breath. However, you cannot lawfully refuse a breath test in most circumstances.

A test refusal is a separate offense from the underlying DWI offense and essentially raises the degree of severity by one level. For instance, a first-time offender who refuses to submit to chemical testing will be charged with Third-Degree Test Refusal (a gross misdemeanor). If any aggravating factor is present, the charge will be a Second-Degree Test Refusal (a gross misdemeanor).

Other Possible Penalties You Should Know About

Beyond the criminal penalties discussed above, DWI offenses in Minnesota may have several civil penalties attached to them as well, including.

  • License revocation: If arrested/charged with a DWI, your driver's license will automatically and administratively be revoked ― most likely before you ever go to court for the first time. The revocation period is a minimum of 90 days and can last for up to six years depending on the circumstances ― whether you failed or refused a test, and whether you have prior alcohol/drug-related driving offenses or license revocations on your record. It is worth noting, however, that if your license is revoked because of an alleged test refusal, you can request a hearing to challenge this issue, although you have a limited time to do so. To be reinstated after revocation you must take a written test, pay a reinstatement fee and apply for a new license.
  • License cancellation: If you have four alcohol/drug-related driving offenses or license revocations within a 10-year period, or if you have five such offenses/revocations within your lifetime, you will also be subject to license cancellation. The cancellation period is a minimum of one year and can last up to six years. To be reinstated after cancellation, you must complete all the rehabilitation requirements for revocation, complete a chemical-dependency treatment program and demonstrate total sobriety for the duration of the cancellation period. You will also be subject to a B-Card, which prohibits you from consuming any alcohol under any circumstance at the risk of immediately having your license cancelled again.
  • Plate impoundment: If arrested/charged with a DWI and you have at least one aggravating factor present or if you refuse the test, all of your license plates (for any vehicle on which you are a registered owner) will be impounded for a period of at least one year. You will need to apply for and obtain special term whiskey plates instead.
  • Vehicle forfeiture: If convicted of a second-degree DWI offense (or higher), the arresting agency will forfeit the vehicle you were driving or operating at the time. If there is no money owed on the vehicle, law enforcement can use or dispose of the vehicle as they see fit. If there is money owed, the forfeiting agency will sell the vehicle at auction and pay off the lien from the proceeds. If the proceeds of the auction sale are insufficient to cover the cost of the lien, you will be responsible for payment of the balance.

While all of these civil penalties can be challenged, it is up to you to initiate those challenges. There is an applicable time limit and most civil challenges must be initiated within 30 days (60 days for vehicle forfeiture). In any case, you should call us as soon as possible so we can help ensure your rights are protected.