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
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
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.
The Minnesota DWI attorneys at Gerald Miller routinely tackle these types of charges.
Penalties for a Conviction
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.
The Collateral Consequences of a Felony DWI
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.
Speak with a Minnesota DWI Defense Attorney Right Away
The penalties that come with a felony DWI are steep, but a conviction is never guaranteed. Reach out to Minnesota DWI attorneys of Gerald Miller today to discuss your defense options on (612) 405-5522.