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According to Minnesota law, a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge can range from a felony to a misdemeanor based on the circumstances. For most first-time offenders, a DWI arrest is treated as a misdemeanor. However, there are many factors including prior convictions that could cause a DWI to be treated as a felony under the law. 

Misdemeanors carry lighter penalties compared to felony convictions. That does not mean the consequences that follow these convictions will not have a dramatic negative impact on your life, career, or freedom. 

The attorneys at Gerald Miller are ready to fight for your rights whether you face a misdemeanor or felony DWI charge. Our aggressive approach to DWI defense can put you into the best position possible to avoid a conviction. Call right away to discuss your case in detail. 

Aggravating Factors

The difference between a misdemeanor and felony DWI depends on how many aggravating factors are present. There are four different classes of DWI offenses, with the presence of aggravating factors increasing the severity of a charge. The more aggravating factors are present, the higher tier of DWI offense you will face. 

The most common aggravating factor is a prior conviction for DWI. However, the state will not count every previous conviction for these purposes. Minnesota has what is known as a 10-year “lookback period.” This means that, for DWI charging purposes, the prosecutor will only count convictions that occurred in the 10 years prior to the current arrest. 

Another aggravating factor involves the presence of children in the car. The presence of a child under the age of 14 will lead to steeper penalties. The same is true for drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.20 or more at the time of their arrest. The refusal to submit a chemical test is not technically an aggravating factor. However, it essentially operates as one in most cases. 

When DWIs are Misdemeanors

For the most part, Minnesota law treats first, second, and third DWI offenses as a misdemeanor. It is worth noting, however, that in Minnesota there is a higher form of criminal offense known as a gross misdemeanor. These charges carry much steeper penalties even though they are not felonies. A gross misdemeanor carries up to a year in prison, while a standard misdemeanor results in a maximum jail term of 90 days. A gross misdemeanor also carries steeper fines. The maximum fine for a gross misdemeanor is $3,000 compared to a $1,000 fine that comes with a standard misdemeanor. 

A first or second DWI becomes a gross misdemeanor with one or more aggravating factors. When it comes to a third DWI conviction in 10 years, the state will automatically treat the charge as a gross misdemeanor. 

When DWIs Are Felonies

There are multiple ways that you could face a felony DWI charge in Minnesota. When a defendant has three prior DWI convictions in the past 10 years, the state will view the fourth charge as a felony. 

Unlike misdemeanor offenses, aggravating factors do not impact a felony DWI. There are other circumstances that can lead to a felony charge, however. Any person that has ever been convicted of a felony DWI in the past will face felony DWI charges for any arrest in the future. This is true even if some of their prior convictions are no longer within the 10-year lookback period. 

The penalties for a felony DWI conviction are much steeper than a misdemeanor offense. A conviction includes up to seven years in state prison as well as a maximum fine of $14,000. A felony conviction also comes with collateral consequences including the loss of voting rights, difficulty maintaining employment, and the loss of the right to own a firearm. 

Speak with Gerald Miller about Your DWI Case

Any DWI conviction can have a negative impact on your quality of life. Thankfully, the lawyers at Gerald Miller have a track record of prevailing in DWI trials in the State of Minnesota. Our team is ready to aggressively pursue a favorable outcome to your case. From investigating your charge to advocating on your behalf at trial, we are prepared to guide you through the criminal justice process. Call Gerald Miller at (612) 440-4608 right away to schedule your free consultation.

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.


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