Sometimes it's hard to tell just how much you've had to drink until it's too late. Friends invited you out to a show at First Avenue. You sang along, danced, and drank until last call. When it was time to leave, you hopped into your car for the short trip back home to Lowertown. Before you could get very far, a cop signaled for you to pull over. That's when you count on your hands just how many drinks you had, and it's too late to make a better decision.
Minnesota's DWI laws are laid out in Chapter 169A of the State's Statutes. Like the citizens who enacted them, the laws are tough, but fair. This informational guide covers the basics of a DWI case in the Twin Cities.
What is Driving While Intoxicated?
In Minnesota, you can be convicted of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) if you drive while your alcohol concentration (AC) is at or above .08% or while you are under the influence of another controlled substance. The law is even stricter if you are a minor or if you are driving a commercial vehicle.
How Will I be Tested?
In order to test a driver for his/her AC, an officer must first have "probable cause" to suspect that the driver is under the influence. Officers typically develop probable cause after observing certain driving behavior and stopping the vehicle. Next an officer will conduct a field sobriety test and possibly give a preliminary breath test (PBT). If an officer goes through this screening process and believes the driver to be impaired, the officer can order a blood, breath, or urine test. An officer may also develop probable cause after a car crash or after a driver refuses the field sobriety test or PBT.
What If I Fail the Test?
Immediate License Revocation
Your license will likely be taken away immediately as part of an "Administrative License Revocation," and replaced with a seven-day temporary license. After that seven days, your license will be suspended for at least 90 days. The suspension may be longer if you are under age 21, you have prior offenses, or there are other aggravating factors. If you feel the arresting officer or another official unjustly revoked your license, you may appeal the revocation by either: (a) submitting a Request for Administrative Review; or (b) filing a petition for judicial review. There is no time limit for requesting administrative review, but you have 30 days to petition for judicial review. See Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.53 for more information.
For administrative review, fill out the request form and send it to Driver and Vehicle Services at 445 Minnesota Street in St. Paul (zip 55101). The form explains the applicable law and helps you to form your argument. The Department of Public Safety will notify you by mail within 15 days as to whether it will uphold your license revocation.
For judicial review, file a petition for review in the county where the alleged offense occurred. So, if you live in Ramsey County, but you were pulled over in Hennepin County, you can only file in Hennepin County. The statute covers the specific details of how the review process works, but it generally requires you to proceed according to the rules of civil procedure and address at least one of ten issues. At this point, the process can be very technical, and you may want to consult with a lawyer about it.
Loss of Driving Privileges
At the very least, privileges will initially be suspended for 90 days. The driver can either: (1) serve 15 days with absolutely no privileges and the remaining time with a "limited license; or (2) have driving privileges for 90 days, but while using an ignition interlock. Of course, the driving restrictions are more severe with second and subsequent DWI arrests.
If a driver is caught DWI with an aggravating factor, the arresting officer will seize the license plates from the vehicle involved in the arrest. The cop will then issue a "temporary vehicle permit." In addition, the officer will issue an impoundment order for the license plates on any other vehicles that the impaired driver owned or leased, or that is registered in his/her name. In some cases, an arresting officer will confiscate the vehicle, and the prosecutor will give notice of a forfeiture. In other words, the State can take your car.
If this is your first offense, there's a chance that you won't be taken into custody. If you've had more than one prior offense, you'll likely be jailed until your first court appearance. In Minneapolis and Hennepin County you'll be taken to the Hennepin County Jail. Likewise, in St. Paul and Ramsey County, officers will take you to the Ramsey County Jail. See FindLaw's resources on Minneapolis Criminal Cases for more details on how formal arrest procedures might play out.
Conviction and Punishment
If this is your first run-in with a Breathalyzer, the state has no minimum sentence. This means that the judge has a lot of discretion when determining how light of a sentence to give you. If your AC isn't too high, the most you can be sentenced to is 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. The penalties are similar for second and third DWI convictions, but you can expect the court to be less lenient within the possible range of penalties. The penalties are significantly greater upon a fourth conviction or if another person suffers "substantial bodily harm." You should review the DVS's DWI Consequences and may want to talk to a lawyer for more details specific to your case.
Chemical Use Assessment
If a driver is convicted of an impaired driving offense or other related crime, he/she will have to undergo a Chemical Use Assessment. This is the process for identifying a person's particular rehabilitation needs. The assessments are provided by various health and social services agencies. Hennepin County provides a list of assessment sites.
Both Hennepin and Ramsey Counties offer drivers the option of attending DWI Court. Both counties have eligibility requirements. Follow these links for information on Hennepin County DWI Court and Ramsey County DWI Court.
What if I Refuse the Test?
Minnesota law makes it a crime to refuse a chemical test. So, even if you successfully prevent the police from getting evidence of one crime, the DWI, your refusal is all the evidence they need for a different crime, the refusal itself. With no prior refusals or convictions, you may be fined up to $3,000 and/or spend up to one year in jail for refusing a chemical test. If someone was killed or hurt in a collision due to impaired driving, the court may still order you to be tested. The administrative penalties are generally more severe for a refusal than they are for a failed test.
How Do I Get My License Reinstated?
The Department of Public Safety Office of the Commissioner has the power to set the terms for license reinstatement. Typically, the terms require you to complete an alcohol treatment program (see the Chemical Use Assessment section above) and pay all of your fees. Expect to pay over $700 in total fees.
Ignition Interlock Law
State law will sometimes require drivers to use ignition interlock devices in order to regain their driving privileges before completing the revocation period. An Ignition Interlock Device prevents a car from starting until the driver first offers a breath sample free of any trace of alcohol. The state requires them after a first offense if driver had an AC of 0.16--roughly twice the legal limit. The devices are always mandatory after a second or subsequent offense.
Contact a qualified attorney.