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In Minnesota, prosecutors could treat the charge of driving while impaired (DWI) as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The underlying law surrounding the offense is the same. If a driver operates or maintains control over a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol, they are guilty of DWI. 

While the elements required to establish guilt are the same in every case, the potential penalties are not. As qualified DWI Defense lawyers in Minnesota, we can tell you that depending on the accused’s criminal history and the factors surrounding the arrest, the penalties could vary drastically. 

If you are facing charges of DWI in Minnesota, you need the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact Minnesota DWI lawyers at Gerald Miller to schedule your initial consultation right away. 

Misdemeanor DWIs

The vast majority of DWI arrests in Minnesota are treated as misdemeanors. In fact, most of these arrests involve first-time offenders with no prior convictions for DWI. There is no guarantee that a first-time offender will not face a felony charge under the right circumstances, though. 

Without the presence of any aggravating factors, the state will charge all first, second, and third DWI offenses as misdemeanors. While not a felony charge, a misdemeanor DWI conviction could still result in jail time and fines. These potential penalties increase in cases where the state charges a DWI as a gross misdemeanor. 

The state can upgrade a first or second DWI from a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor in cases where the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.16 or above. The same is true if there was a child in the car at the time of the arrest. For a third offense, the state will automatically treat a DWI as a gross misdemeanor. 

For a basic first offense DWI with no aggravating factors, a conviction carries a maximum jail term of 90 days and a fine of no more than $1,000. When the charge is increased to a gross misdemeanor, the maximum jail term is extended to one year. Additionally, a gross misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $3,000. While these penalties are steep, they do not compare to the consequences of a felony conviction. 

Felony DWIs

Ask any well-practiced DWI Defense attorney, and that will confirm that felony DWI charges are reserved for individuals with prior drunken-driving convictions. There are different circumstances that can lead to a felony DWI charge. The first factor that can lead to a felony charge involves drivers who have been convicted of felony DWI before. Any person with a prior felony DWI conviction will be charged with a felony upon any additional DWI arrest. 

The second circumstance that can lead to a felony charge involves a driver with three prior misdemeanor DWI convictions. It is important to note that not every prior conviction will count. The state only considers convictions that occurred in the 10-year period prior to the most recent DWI arrest. This window of time is known as the lookback period. Misdemeanors that occurred more than 10 years ago will not count as priors, meaning a person with four prior DWIs from more than a decade earlier will face the same penalties as a first-time offender. 

The third example involves prior felony convictions other than DWI. For example, a person that has committed felony criminal vehicular homicide involving alcohol will face felony DWI charges in the future. This is true regardless if they have a prior DWI on their record or not. 

The penalties for a felony DWI are much higher than a misdemeanor. The maximum fine alone is 14 times greater than a first-time DWI. In addition to the steep fines, a conviction could also lead to 7 years in prison. 

There are other consequences for a felony DWI outside of jail time and fines. Upon conviction, a person could lose their civil rights including the right to own a gun or vote. Additionally, there are steep administrative penalties that will limit a person’s ability to drive a car for years to come. 

Speak With a Minnesota DWI Defense Lawyer Today

The good news is that these penalties only come into play upon a conviction. With the right defense, you could avoid a conviction entirely. To get started on a defense strategy for your DWI charge, call (612) 440-4610 and schedule a free consultation with the attorneys of Gerald Miller right away.

Cody Wright

Cody Wright is a dedicated DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minnesota. He ensures your voice is heard in a system that often discourages the accused from speaking up. He has received his law degree from Mitchell College of Law.


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