Minnesota DWI/DUI Laws, Fines & Penalties Explained

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Minnesota uses the term driving while intoxicated (DWI) to describe impaired or drunk driving, while other states are known to use the term driving under the influence (DUI) for impaired driving. The state of Minnesota employs a multitude of criminal and administrative consequences for drivers who choose to operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. Drivers who violate the law not only face the immediate suspension of their license, but can also see large fines and months or years in jail. They may also suffer personal consequences in employment and housing, as a DWI conviction can stay on their criminal record for up to a 10 year period.

Definition of DWI in Minnesota

According to the Minnesota House of Representatives, a person who drives or otherwise operates a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or another controlled substance violates its DWI laws. This also applies to other craft, including snowmobiles, ATVs, motorcycles or any off-road vehicles.

Law enforcement will stop a driver if they see obvious signs of impairment and can ask the driver to submit to a chemical test to measure the influence of alcohol or drugs. These circumstances can lead to a formal DWI charge if the driver:

  • Has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher at the time of the stop or within two hours.
  • Shows metabolites of schedule I or II drugs other than marijuana in their system.
  • Has a commercial driver's license (CDL) and has a BAC of 0.04 percent or higher at the time of the stop or within two hours.
  • Refuses to submit to a breath or chemical test as requested by law enforcement.

First-Offense DWI and Penalties

In Minnesota, a driver's first DWI offense is usually a misdemeanor. Criminal penalties are up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. A first-time offense can also be a gross misdemeanor with stiffer penalties, including a year in jail, a maximum fine of $3,000, and substance abuse screening and treatment if these aggravating factors apply:

  • Driver refused a chemical test.
  • BAC was 0.16 percent or higher at the time of the traffic stop.
  • A passenger under 16 was in the motor vehicle at the time of the stop.

In addition, administrative penalties from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety apply almost immediately after arrest. The state often requires drivers to fulfill them, even in the absence of a criminal conviction. They are:

  • 90-day driver's license revocation, with an increase to one year for drivers with a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher.
  • Plate impoundment for all vehicles in the driver's name if that person has a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher, had a passenger under 16 in the car at the time of the stop, or refuses a chemical test. The driver may apply for "whiskey plates" (special registration plates) for the case's duration.
  • Possible vehicle forfeiture.

Second-Offense DWI and Penalties

A Minnesota driver's second DWI offense within 10 years is a gross misdemeanor. Its criminal penalties include up to a year in jail, a maximum fine of $3,000, substance abuse screening and completion of a treatment program. A repeat DWI carries a mandatory 30-day sentence, which may also include community service hours.

Second-offense administrative penalties are:

  • One-year driver's license revocation, with an increase of two years for drivers with a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher, or chemical test refusal.
  • License plate impoundment for all vehicles in the driver's name. The driver may apply for "whiskey plates" for the case's duration.
  • Possible vehicle forfeiture.

Third-Offense DWI and Penalties

A driver's third DWI offense within 10 years is also a gross misdemeanor. Its criminal penalties include up to a year of jail time, a maximum fine of $3,000, substance abuse screening and completion of a treatment program. A third DWI carries a mandatory 90-day sentence, which may also include community service hours. Offenders charged with a third DWI must await their court appearance in jail. The court can impose maximum bail of $12,000 if the driver allows electronic alcohol monitoring and agrees to abstain from drinking.

Third-offense administrative penalties are:

  • Three-year loss of driving privileges, with participation in Minnesota's ignition interlock device (IID) program. The state requires participation to drive during this period and to reinstate the driver's privileges when it's over.
  • Plate impoundment for all vehicles in the driver's name. The driver may apply for "whiskey plates" for the case's duration.
  • Possible vehicle forfeiture, with 60-day notice of intent to forfeit the vehicle from the prosecution. If the driver doesn't challenge this sentence or succeed in getting their vehicle returned, the state can put the car up for auction or otherwise use it.

Definition of Felony DWI in Minnesota

Any DWI can become a felony in certain circumstances:

  • Driver has three DWIs before the current charge that occurred within the last 10 years.
  • At least one of the driver's prior DWIs was a felony.
  • Driver has a felony injury or death conviction involving impaired driving.

The court will require a driver arrested for a felony DWI to remain incarcerated until their first court date. At that time, the court may set bail and other conditions specific to the case for possible release. These include:

  • Abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
  • Random chemical tests.
  • Checking in weekly with a probation officer.
  • Plate impoundment for all vehicles in the driver's name.

Minnesota Felony Criminal and Administrative Penalties

Sentencing for a felony DWI charge is far more severe than for that of a gross misdemeanor. Criminal penalties include:

  • Three to seven years in prison. Felony offenders cannot receive early release until they complete substance abuse treatment, at which point they will serve five years of conditional release, which may include probation. An offender who fails to adhere to conditional release requirements will go back to prison.
  • Probation with a stayed, or more lenient, jail sentence. Felony offenders cannot receive a stayed sentence until they complete substance abuse treatment. Drivers who violate probation will go back to prison.
  • Maximum $14,000 fine.

Administrative penalties for felony DWI include:

  • Four to six year driver's license cancellation with participation in Minnesota's ignition interlock device (IID) program. The state requires IID installation during this period and reinstates the driver's privileges when it's over.
  • Plate impoundment for all vehicles in the driver's name. The driver may apply for "whiskey plates" for the case's duration.
  • Possible vehicle forfeiture, with a 60-day notice of intent to forfeit the vehicle from the prosecution. If the driver doesn't challenge this sentence or succeeds in getting their vehicle returned, the state can put the car up for auction or otherwise use it.

Underage DWI and Penalties

Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in Minnesota. The state applies its "Not-a-Drop" law to underage drivers with a BAC of less than 0.08 percent, caught driving with any alcohol in their system. Underage DWI is usually a misdemeanor and carries these criminal penalties:

  • Maximum 90 days in jail.
  • Fine up to $1,000.
  • 30-day license suspension for the first offense; 180 days for a second offense.

Unlicensed offenders charged with DWI may find it difficult to get a permit or license in the future.

Minors with a BAC of 0.08 or greater face adult DWI penalties and will see their license suspended for 180 days for their first offense. The state tries DWI offenders under 15 in juvenile court. Unlicensed minor offenders with an adult BAC limit may also find it difficult to get a permit or license in the future.

CDL Drivers and DWIs

A commercial driver can see their license revoked if the court finds them guilty of a DWI conviction, according to Minnesota Driving and Vehicle Services. This can impact their employment for several years or for a lifetime, depending on the number of offenses they already have. The penalty for a first offense DWI by a CDL driver is a license suspension of at least one year. Some disqualifications include:

  • Chemical test refusal.
  • Driving while impaired by a controlled substance.
  • Driving with a BAC of 0.04 percent or greater. Law enforcement will immediately place a CDL driver with any alcohol amount in their system out of service for 24 hours.
  • Using a CDL to commit a felony.
  • Vehicle operator has an invalid license.
  • Driver caused a fatality.
  • Driver commits an offense while operating a commercial vehicle.
  • Driver commits a crime in another state that Minnesota deems a disqualification.

If a first disqualifying offense occurs while a driver operates a hazardous material vehicle, that person will lose their CDL for three years. A second disqualifying offense will cause a driver to lose their CDL for life, as will committing a felony while impaired by a controlled substance.

Definition of Implied Consent Law

When getting a license, Minnesota drivers automatically consent to the state's implied consent laws, according to Nolo. This means they have agreed to take a chemical test in the event law enforcement requests it during a traffic stop. An officer will only do this if they suspect impairment and other circumstances exist, including:

  • Preliminary breath test (PBT) refusal.
  • Lawful DWI arrest.
  • Accident occurs as the result of driver's impairment.
  • Driver causes property damage, injury or death as the result of impairment.
  • PBT shows driver has BAC of 0.08 percent or higher.

Before administering a chemical test, law enforcement must notify the driver of the consequences of a refusal. They must also make the driver aware of their right to contact an attorney within a reasonable amount of time. Drivers who refuse a chemical test may face criminal or administrative penalties for test refusal, but only criminal penalties apply to the refusal of breath testing.

Implied Consent Penalties

The state considers an implied consent violation to be a gross misdemeanor charge. A first breath test refusal is a third-degree DWI and carries penalties that include a jail sentence of one year and a fine of $3,000. A second test refusal, regarded as a second-degree DWI, has a civil penalty of vehicle forfeiture attached to it.

In terms of implied consent administrative penalties, drivers can lose their license for one to six years. The length of the sentence depends on the number of offenses in the driver's history. Refusing a test can result in a longer sentence than taking one and failing it. The first chemical test refusal can lead to a one-year revocation, while a second refusal can result in revocation that lasts for two years.