There are four degrees of DWI in Minnesota: Fourth, Third, Second and First. In Minnesota, your first DWI is a fourth degree misdemeanor unless you:
- have a prior DWI within last 10 years;
- have a passenger age 16 or younger with you in the car at the time of the DWI;
- tested over .16; or
- refused to provide a sample of your blood, breath or urine after the police asked you for one.
If any of the above happened then you could be charged with a more severe DWI. If so, please see my other articles discussing third, second and first degree DWI. Otherwise, read on.
Here’s a couple of things you might not know:
- In Minnesota, there is no such thing as a DUI. We only have DWI, although it is common for people to use DUI and DWI interchangeably.
- Yes, you can be charged with a DWI even if you are under the .08 limit. That’s because there are two forms of DWI: driving over the .08 limit, and driving while under the influence of alcohol or a drug.
- Your license will be revoked for 90 days unless you make an “Implied Consent” challenge and win.
What’s the penalty for a misdemeanor DWI? The maximum penalty for 4th degree DWI is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. If you plead guilty, or if you’re found guilty, you will have a criminal record, your license will be revoked for 90 days, you face potential jail time, and these additional consequences could happen:
- Sentence to Service (think of it as picking up garbage on the side of the road, scrubbing urine off of walls, removing graffiti, shoveling snow, cutting grass, etc.)
- Probation for 1-2 years, and if you violate any of the terms, the judge could give you additional jail time
- A no alcohol restriction, meaning the judge orders you not to consume any alcohol for 1-2 years, with random checks by probation
- Attending and paying for a MADD panel
- Paying for a chemical dependency evaluation and following the recommendations (they can range from an alcohol class all the way to inpatient treatment)
- Loss of your job, loss of future employment opportunities and loss of income
- Having a DWI on your driving record for the rest of your life
- Higher insurance costs
- Miscellaneous consequences that differ from case to case
What if I tested over the legal limit? Just because you tested over the limit does not mean that you are guilty of DWI. Even if you tested over the limit, there are still many defenses that apply. Here’s a short list of the most common defenses:
- Did the officer have a legal reason to pull you over?
- Did the officer have the right to ask you to get out of the vehicle and take field sobriety tests? Remember, drinking and driving is not illegal. The officer has to be able to prove that they thought you were actually drunk or over the .08 limit before they have the right to ask you to get out of your car.
- Did you do well on the field sobriety tests?
- Did the officer have the right to ask you to take a roadside breath test and arrest you for DWI?
- If you were legally arrested, did the officer read the Implied Consent Advisory to you in the correct manner, give you enough time to contact a lawyer before deciding if you should take a blood, breath or urine test, mislead you on whether you should or should not take the test, or interfere with any of your other rights when making your decision whether to take a test?
- Did the officer administer the blood, breath or urine test in the right way?
- Is the blood, breath or urine test admissible in evidence?
- Is the blood, breath or urine test reliable?
- Did the officer interfere with your right to get an additional test?
DWI’s have been thrown out for each of the above reasons, as well as many others, even when people test over the limit. An experienced DWI lawyer knows how to examine each of these issues and try to:
- Get your case thrown out; or
- Have the charges lowered to speeding, no brake light, no headlight, failing to signal, careless driving, or a number of other lower charges instead of DWI. I think you’d agree, they’re all better than getting a DWI on your criminal record and being revoked for 90 days.
Do I really need a lawyer? If you go into court without a lawyer, the odds of getting a lesser offense or getting your case thrown out are extremely low. Can you really take the risk of having a criminal record, having a DWI on your driving record forever, and losing your license for 90 days? An experienced DWI lawyer knows all of the defenses to DWI, knows how to spot those issues in your case, knows what is needed to present those issues in court, and knows how to go to trial and present the best possible defense.
If you wait and don’t hire an attorney right away, you might lose your right to fight the Implied Consent case. You only have approximately 30 days from the notice of your revocation to file a consent challenge. After that, you lose the right to make the Implied Consent challenge, and the DWI will be on your driving record even if you win the criminal case! It’s not fair, but it’s the law. For more information about that, see my Implied Consent article.
In addition, even if you ultimately plead guilty to a DWI, you are better off doing it with a lawyer. Why?
- Prosecutors are more likely to make a better offer to you if you have an experienced DWI lawyer because they know that the experienced lawyer is better at defending the case than you are.
- An experienced DWI lawyer knows each judge’s tendencies. That is important because judges have discretion on what sentence to give you, and an experienced DWI lawyer can keep you away from the judges that are especially tough on DWIs.
- An experienced DWI lawyer can give you an idea of everything to expect and can tell you whether the proposed sentence is fair or not before you plead, so you know if you are making a good decision or not.
- An experienced DWI lawyer will also explain all of the other effects of a DWI to you. Judges and prosecutors are not required to tell you about those.
This is just a summary of what you can expect on your first DWI in Minnesota. For more specific information, you can contact me for a free consultation.