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Is a DWI a Felony in Minnesota?

For most first-time offenders, an arrest for driving while intoxicated (DWI) will result in a misdemeanor charge. Under certain circumstances, a Minnesota state law treats a DWI offense as a felony.

The distinction is essential for a number of reasons. A felony conviction results in steeper fines and tougher sentences compared to a misdemeanor. There are also significant collateral consequences that are unique to felony convictions. An astute Minnesota DWI lawyer will be the best person to explain this in detail.

The good news is that felony DWI cases are often defensible. Police routinely rush to judgment at traffic stops, which can lead to an arrest that is not supported by the evidence. Not only can a Minnesota DWI defense lawyer defend you at trial, but they could also investigate whether felony charges are appropriate in the first place.

If you are facing a charge of felony DWI, you need legal counsel that will fight for you. The Minnesota DWI attorneys of Gerald Miller will aggressively pursue every defense option available to you. Call today to discuss your case during an initial consultation.

Types of DWI Charges in Minnesota

As qualified Minnesota DWI attorneys, we know that there are four types of DWI offenses under Minnesota law. Each of those offenses is found under Minnesota Statute Section 169A. Only first-degree DWI – the most serious charge – is considered a felony. The other three charges are all misdemeanors under state law.

First Degree DWI in Minnesota

Whether or not a defendant faces first-degree DWI charges primarily depends on their history of prior convictions. Under the statute, the state may charge a person with first degree DWI if they:

  • Have had three or more qualified prior impaired driving incidents in the last ten years
  • Have previously been convicted of felony DWI under Minnesota law.

Unlike some other states, Minnesota has what is known as a “look back” period. A look-back period is a set amount of time that state law will count prior DWI convictions to enhance a criminal charge. In Minnesota, this period lasts ten years. Any Minnesota DWI attorney will confirm that convictions that fall outside of the 10-year window will not be counted. In other words, a motorist with three prior misdemeanor convictions would not face felony DWI charges under Minnesota law so long as at least one of those convictions occurred more than ten years prior. This is in contrast to states like Texas that consider all DWIs over the course of a person’s lifetime when determining the severity of a DWI charge.

There is an important distinction regarding prior felony convictions, however. While the statute provides a lookback period for misdemeanor convictions, it is not true for felonies. Once a motorist is convicted of felony DWI under Minnesota law, all future DWI charges will also be treated as felonies.

Misdemeanor DWI Offenses in Minnesota

The three remaining DWI charges are all misdemeanors. The most serious of the three is second-degree DWI. This charge is appropriate for defendants with two or more aggravating factors, or for anyone that refused a breath test and also has an aggravating factor on their record. Examples of aggravating factors include prior convictions and high BAC test results. These aggravating factors only come into play for determining the appropriate misdemeanor DWI charge, as the felony DWI statute does not take them into account.

Third-degree DWI is a step down from a second degree. This charge is appropriate in cases where there is a single aggravating factor present or if the defendant refused to submit to a chemical test following their arrest.

The least-severe charge is fourth-degree DWI. This charge is used in cases where the defendant has no aggravating factors and did not refuse a chemical test. Most of the time, this charge is used for first-time offenders.

A Minnesota DWI defense lawyer at Gerald Miller can tackle these types of charges.

Reducing Minnesota Felony DWI Charges

In some cases, our attorneys are successful in reducing a DWI charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. Remember: whether or not a DWI is a felony depends entirely on your prior criminal history. If our attorneys can establish that you do not have the required prior convictions necessary to convert your offense into a felony, we could push the prosecutor to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.

Dismissing Minnesota Felony DWI Charges

A dismissal could also be a possibility in your DWI case. The reality is that a prosecutor will not dismiss your felony DWI out of the goodness of their hearts. There is tremendous pressure for prosecutors to aggressively pursue these cases, meaning a dismissal is only likely if your attorney can establish a strong defense. Only when the state believes they cannot win at trial will they agree to willingly dismiss a felony DWI case.

Any viable defense strategy could result in a dismissal. While there are various options available in these cases, most successful DWI defenses fall into one of two categories. The first strategy involves attacking the traffic stop while the second questions the validity of the chemical test result.

Challenging the stop is possibly the most common defense in DWI cases. The police cannot pull over a driver and investigate the for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol without a reason. If the police pull you over without reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, the traffic stop could be illegal. Your attorney could have the evidence collected at the scene of the traffic stop excluded from the trial if you were pulled over illegally.

Attacking the admissibility of the chemical test is also a strong strategy. Most DWI convictions rely on the results of a blood, breath, or urine test. However, these test results are unreliable if they are collected or tested outside of state guidelines. If your attorney can show that the police made a mistake when collecting your sample, it could result in the results being thrown out. This could occur if the officer that takes a breath sample was not certified to use the breathalyzer equipment.

Penalties for a DWI Conviction in Minnesota

The penalties for a first-degree DWI are substantial. According to the statute, a conviction can result in imprisonment for up to seven years. Additionally, the minimum sentence is three years in state prison. The court does not have leeway to enter a sentence outside of this range, but a judge is empowered to suspend some of the sentences depending on the circumstances.

For a person that is convicted of a fourth DWI, the court must require at least 180 days of incarceration. For those with five or more DWI convictions, a minimum of one year of incarceration is required.

Felony DWI convictions also carry steep fines. At the court’s discretion, a defendant could face a fine up to $14,000 in addition to any period of incarceration.

Additionally, a fourth-degree DWI conviction will also result in administrative action against a defendant’s driving privileges. The state will cancel their driver’s license, followed by four to six years of using an ignition interlock device. This includes one year of a limited license that is only valid for traveling to and from work, school, or abstinence-based programs. In some cases, the court could even require a defendant to forfeit their vehicle upon conviction of DWI.

Only aggressive defense by a Minnesota DWI attorney can help minimize these penalties.

Expunging a Minnesota Felony DWI Conviction

In recent years, Minnesota has made strides to increase the availability of expungement for a number of criminal offenses. This is done in an effort to provide individuals who have turned their life around with a fresh start free from the burden of a criminal record.

Despite these changes, expungement is not an option for anyone convicted of a felony DWI. Like many serious charges, state law currently does not allow this type of conviction to be removed from the public record.

Unfortunately, the consequences of this conviction can follow you forever. Without the ability to expunge a felony DWI, the conviction will remain on your criminal record permanently. In addition to leading to steep penalties following an arrest for another DWI, these convictions could continue to leave you facing collateral consequences for the rest of your life.

The Collateral Consequences of a Felony DWI in Minnesota

There are consequences for a DWI conviction outside of the penalties prescribed by statute. These collateral consequences might not directly result from a criminal conviction, but they can still have a substantial impact on the life of a person convicted of felony DWI. Some common collateral consequences include:

  • Loss of Rights: Convicted felons lose the right to vote or own firearms.
  • Difficulty Maintaining Employment: A felony conviction on a criminal record can make it difficult to find work.
  • Challenges Obtaining Housing: Many landlords rely on criminal background checks when considering applications.
  • Loss of Professional License: Regulatory bodies that oversee professional licenses for doctors, nurses, and lawyers often have the power to suspend or revoke those licenses based on felony convictions.
  • Child Custody: A DWI conviction could impact a child custody hearing, especially if a child was in the car at the time of the arrest.

The problem with collateral consequences is that they are largely out of the hands of the judge or the prosecutor. While the prosecution can make a plea bargain that addresses your potential jail time or fines, they have no ability to address most collateral consequences. For example, if your employer learns of your conviction, there is little the prosecutor could say or do to prevent them from terminating your employment.

Given the reality of collateral consequences, it is vital that you take them into account when considering a potential plea bargain. If a DWI conviction will result in the loss of your livelihood, you might be best served to fight back at the trial and try to earn an acquittal from a jury.

The attorneys of Gerald Miller can help you weigh your options when it comes to collateral consequences. We can review your case and advise you on your chances of success at trial. We can also help prepare you for the consequences you might face should you accept a plea offer from the prosecution. From the day we take on your case, we will work tirelessly to help you obtain the outcome you deserve.

Speak with a Minnesota DWI Defense Lawyer Right Away

The penalties that come with a felony DWI are steep, but a conviction is never guaranteed. Reach out to the Minnesota DWI attorneys of Gerald Miller today to discuss your defense options at (612) 405-5522. You can also schedule a free consultation online anytime!

About the author

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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