The term “aggravated DWI” is used in many states for drunken driving offenses that carry enhanced penalties. However, there is no such thing as an aggravated DWI in Minnesota. This phrase is often confused with the aggravating factors that play a major role in determining the severity of a drunken driving offense, however.
The potential penalties of a DWI conviction are severe, even in cases where no aggravating factors are present. If convicted, you could face the possibility of months behind bars. While first-time offenders rarely face penalties that severe, the fines and suspended driving privileges can result in a serious burden.
The attorneys at Gerald Miller have extensive experience taking on DWI cases and winning. Many DWI arrests are defensible, and an aggressive approach could result in a favorable outcome for your DWI case. Call right away to schedule your initial consultation and learn about your defense options.
Aggravated DWI Charges in the Other States
Some states have individual offenses known as aggravated DWI. The specifics of these cases vary from state to state, but they generally exist to enhance the penalties on a DWI conviction under certain circumstances.
Texas is one example of a state with a criminal offense known as aggravated DWI. In Texas, the charge of aggravated DWI is used for:
- Defendants with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 percent or more
- A previous DWI conviction
- An open container of alcohol at the time of the arrest
- A child in the car at the time of the arrest
- Causing an accident that results in serious injury or death
The distinction between a DWI and aggravated DWI conviction is important in every state that recognizes the offense. It often results in steeper fines, mandatory jail time, and even the risk of a felony conviction.
Understanding Aggravating Factors in DWI Cases
The state law does not provide for an offense called aggravated DWI, but it does include so-called aggravating factors that can result in a defendant facing a higher level of the DWI charge.
There are four types of DWI under Minnesota law. Each of the four offenses is defined by degrees, with the first-degree DWI carrying the steepest penalties and fourth-degree DWI carrying the lightest. The presence of aggravating factors can result in the increase of a DWI charge from one level to another.
In total, there are three aggravating factors under state law found at Minnesota Statute Section 169A.03. These aggravating factors include:
- Prior convictions for DWI that occurred within the 10 years prior to the current offense
- A BAC of 0.16 measured within two years of a DWI arrest
- The presence of a child under the age of 16 who is also more than 36 months younger than the offender at the time of a DWI arrest
These aggravating factors are similar to the elements of an aggravated DWI in other states. This means that in practice, these same factors are likely to result in steeper penalties whether a state recognizes a separate charge of aggravated DWI or not.
There is one other factor that impacts the severity of a DWI charge: the refusal to submit to a chemical test. While this factor alone could result in a defendant facing a higher-level DWI charge, it is not technically an aggravating factor according to the statute.
How Aggravating Factors Impact a DWI Case
Aggravating factors have a direct impact on the specific DWI charge you are likely to face. The degree to which these factors impact a charge varies, especially when it comes to a first-degree DWI.
Fourth-degree DWI is a misdemeanor and is also the lowest level of DWI charge. This charge is only appropriate in cases where no aggravating factors are present. If a person arrested for DWI has a single aggravating factor or if they refused a chemical test, the state will file charges above fourth-degree DWI. A conviction for fourth-degree DWI could result in a maximum jail sentence of 90 days and a fine of up to $1,000.
One step above a fourth-degree DWI is third-degree DWI. Also, a misdemeanor, the potential jail term for this charge is much higher than a fourth-degree DWI. This is the appropriate charge in cases where a single aggravating factor is present. The maximum penalty for third-degree DWI is $3,000 and up to one year in jail.
A second-degree DWI is also a misdemeanor charge. This charge is appropriate against defendants with two aggravating factors against them. While this is most often two prior DWI convictions, any combination of aggravating factors could suffice.
The maximum penalties for a second-degree DWI is the same as a third-degree DWI. The important difference between these charges involves the minimum sentences. For a second-degree DWI, the minimum jail sentence is 90 days. The judge in these cases could also order the forfeiture of the vehicle involved in the arrest.
A first-degree DWI is the only felony drunk driving charge. The penalties are steep, with a conviction resulting in a minimum of three years and a maximum of seven years in state prison.
Surprisingly, this offense is the only one of the four that does not take aggravating factors into account. The only factors considered when filing a first-degree DWI charge are a defendant’s prior convictions. Not every prior conviction will count either; the state may only consider those occurring within the 10 years prior to the date of the arrest.
Why Aggravating Factors Matter
The presence of aggravating factors is important for obvious reasons. With each aggravating factor, the penalties of a potential conviction will grow. Two individuals arrested under virtually the same circumstances could face wildly different consequences if one driver has multiple aggravating factors and the other has none. The existence of aggravating factors could make the difference between avoiding jail time entirely and spending up to a year behind bars.
The steepest penalties for a DWI technically are not impacted by aggravating factors. This is because whether or not the charge is considered a felony or a misdemeanor depends entirely on the number of previous convictions. Other aggravating factors like a person’s BAC will have no bearing on this distinction.
Facing felony DWI charges is a far more serious situation compared to a misdemeanor. When it comes to potential jail time or fines, the difference between the two is significant.
There are also collateral consequences that come with a felony conviction that are not a part of a misdemeanor offense. The most obvious example is the loss of rights that a felony conviction can bring. A person convicted of a felony will lose their ability to own, possess, use, or purchase a firearm. Additionally, that individual will also miss out on their right to vote. Other collateral consequences could include difficulty securing employment, the rejection of a rental application, or the loss of a professional license.
As your attorneys, our firm could help you not only fight back against a conviction but also work to reduce the charges against you. In many cases, we are able to show that an aggravating factor should not apply or that a previous conviction may not be used to increase the penalties in a DWI case.
The most important thing our firm can provide is peace of mind. While we can never guarantee a successful outcome to your DWI case, you can rest assured we will work tirelessly to secure the outcome you deserve.
How Our Team Could Help You Fight These Charges
The work of a DWI defense attorney is about more than winning at trial or securing a fair plea bargain. It is also about reshaping the entire scope of the criminal charges against you. In the context of aggravating DWI factors, this could involve developing evidence to prove to the prosecution that a specific aggravating factor should not apply. By removing an aggravating factor from the equation, it could dramatically reduce the potential penalties you face.
There are a few ways your attorney could challenge the validity of an aggravating factor. Often, this involves establishing that a prior conviction may not be used for the purpose of enhancing your criminal charges. This could be done by showing it falls outside of the state’s 10-year look-back period. Alternatively, it could result from proving that a conviction from another state would not qualify as a DWI in Minnesota. Challenging the validity of a breath, blood, or urine test could also show the state cannot prove the elevated blood alcohol concentration needed to increase potential penalties for a DWI conviction.
Of course, the ultimate goal of any defense attorney is to avoid a conviction entirely. Sometimes, this could be done by having the case dismissed—either by the prosecutor or on order of the court. Dismissals typically occur only when a defendant can establish a defense so strong the prosecution could not overcome it at trial.
Even if a defense does not push the prosecutor to dismiss the case, it could be viable at trial. Facing a trial can be nerve-wracking for some, but an acquittal is the best possible outcome short of never being charged at all.
The attorneys of Gerald Miller can review the facts of your arrest and advise you on possible defense strategies. We are never afraid to take a case to trial if it puts you in the best position for a positive outcome. We are also well-versed in negotiating plea bargains that limit the penalties you might face. During your initial consultation, we can prepare you for what to expect during the process.
Discuss Aggravating Factors with a DWI Defense Attorney Right Away
Although Minnesota does not recognize the crime of aggravated DWI, it does apply aggravating factors when determining the severity of a DWI charge. If you have questions about how aggravating factors could impact your DWI case, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Gerald Miller. Call (612) 440-4610 now to schedule your free consultation.