In the hierarchy of what criminal offenses are the most serious, offenses that stem from driving often don’t seem as serious as offenses that have victims, like theft or assault. As a result, some people think that any driving offense, even impaired driving charges, aren’t very serious concerns.
These people may be in for a rude awakening when they wind up facing serious consequences and potentially even felony charges after an impaired driving arrest. While most impaired driving offenses in Minnesota result in misdemeanor charges, there are circumstances in which someone could face felony impaired driving charges.
Your criminal record is the most important factor
When the prosecutors review your case and determine how to charge you, it will be your previous criminal record that will determine whether the courts charge you with misdemeanor driving while impaired (DWI) charges or felony DWI charges. The exception to this rule will be charges that stem from an impaired driving crash that left someone severely injured or even dead. Even those without a previous record can face felony charges in that scenario.
If you have had three impaired driving convictions in the last decade, even if you have never caused a crash, property damage or injury to another person, the courts will likely charge you with a first-degree DWI, which is a felony offense. You could also wind up with felony DWI charges if you have a previous felony DWI on your record. Finally, those with a criminal record that includes charges related to a drunk driving crash that left someone injured or felony vehicular homicide could find themselves facing felony DWI charges.
What are the penalties for felony DWI offenses?
Those facing misdemeanor impaired driving charges will face increasing penalties for each subsequent conviction. The same is true for felony DWI offenses. You could find yourself facing between three to seven years in state prison after a conviction or guilty plea. Additionally, it is unlikely that you will qualify for early release until you complete any required alcohol or addiction treatments.
When you do finally get released, you will likely have to report to the courts as part of a supervised or conditional release program for five years, and you will have to meet certain requirements if you want to get your license back, potentially including the installation of an ignition interlock device that requires a breath test before you start your car.
It may be possible for you to avoid jail time if the courts choose to stay the prison sentence. Typically, if you secure a stay, you will have to undergo alcohol treatment and participate in a probation program for several years. Violations of the terms of your probation or early release after a felony DWI conviction could mean prison time.
Proper defense strategy when facing any DWI charges can help you avoid the risk of a future felony DWI charge. If you already have a record of impaired driving, a defense against your current charges may be the best way to reduce the impact of these allegations on your life.