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Is a 4th Degree DWI Bad in Minneapolis?

If you’re asking is a 4th degree DWI bad, you should know that it is the lowest-level offense within DWI offenses. While the potential penalties are lower than the other DWI offenses recognized under state law, it does not mean a conviction will not have meaningful consequences. For many people, a 4th degree DWI conviction could complicate their life forever.

If you have been arrested for DWI in Minnesota, understand that these charges are defensible. Many people arrested for DWI are ultimately acquitted or see the charges against them dismissed. While no attorney can guarantee a favorable outcome in your case, the attorneys of Gerald Miller will work tirelessly to obtain the best result in your DWI case.

Convictions for a Fourth-Degree DWI

It is helpful to remember that the degree of a DWI offense relates entirely to the potential penalty that you face. This means that the court will treat all DWI charges the same when it comes to determining guilt or innocence. Only in cases where guilt is established will the court evaluate what degree DWI offense you are facing. There are two general elements the state must prove to establish that you are guilty of DWI: that you were driving, and that you were impaired while behind the wheel. Without establishing guilt, you will not face any of the consequences of a fourth-degree DWI conviction.


The offense of DWI is governed by Minnesota Statute Section 169A.20. According to the statute, the first step in proving guilt in a DWI case is to show you either drove, operated, or were in physical control of a motor vehicle. There is little debate on what constitutes driving or operating a motor vehicle. The same is not true when it comes to allegations of physical control of a motor vehicle.

The purpose of the language regarding physical control of a vehicle is to allow the police to charge you with a DWI even if you were not driving. Physical control of a vehicle essentially means that you were in a position where you could have easily begun driving at a moment’s notice. This is a subjective standard, but it usually involves an impaired person within a motor vehicle that has the keys in it. If you are asleep behind the wheel of a running car, you could expect to face DWI charges. The same might not be true if you are in the back seat of the motor vehicle without the keys present.


The second part of a DWI conviction requires the state to prove that you were impaired by alcohol or some other substances. In total, there are seven ways the state could make this case. These include:

  • the person is under the influence of alcohol;
  • the person is under the influence of a controlled substance;
  • the person is under the influence of an intoxicating substance and the person knows or has reason to know that the substance has the capacity to cause impairment;
  • the person is under the influence of a combination of any two or more of the elements named in clauses (1) to (3);
  • the person’s alcohol concentration at the time, or as measured within two hours of the time, of driving, operating, or being in physical control of the motor vehicle is 0.08 or more;
  • the vehicle is a commercial motor vehicle and the person’s alcohol concentration at the time, or as measured within two hours of the time, of driving, operating, or being in physical control of the commercial motor vehicle is 0.04 or more; or
  • the person’s body contains any amount of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II, or its metabolite, other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols.

The prosecutor only has to prove one of the seven theories beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction for DWI. While the state relies on all of these options, some are more commonly used than others. By far, the most used option is (5). This is known as “per se” DWI. Unlike the other options available to the state, per se DWI Does not require prosecutors to meet a subjective standard like being “under the influence” of a substance. Instead, the state needs only to show that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time you were behind the wheel was .08 or higher.

Having an objective standard to point to is very helpful for prosecutors. After all, there are ways to mitigate the other allegations of intoxication the state might rely on. For example, injuries or illness could explain a poor showing on a field sobriety test. A defense attorney could also dispute other allegations including that you smelled like alcohol at the time of your arrest.

Given the reliance on BAC test results, one of the best defense strategies is to attack the accuracy of these tests. The attorneys of Gerald Miller understand how to ensure the state complies with the guidelines for using these tests in court.

What is a Fourth-Degree DWI in Minnesota?

Most of the time, first-time offenders will be charged with fourth-degree DWI for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Minnesota. Under state law, the specific DWI charge used by a prosecutor will depend on the number of “aggravating factors” present. The more aggravating factors, the higher the criminal charge. To be charged with a 4th degreed DWI, you must not have any aggravating factors. Examples of aggravating factors include:

  • Having a BAC of .20 or more
  • Having a prior DWI conviction in the previous ten years
  • Having a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle at the time of the arrest

In other words, a first-time DWI offender will face 4th degree charges unless the BAC level is at .2 or more or if they have a child passenger in the vehicle.

Penalties for a Fourth-Degree DWI in Minnesota

In Minnesota, a 4th degree DWI is a misdemeanor offense. This is the lowest level of criminal offense available under state law. If you are convicted of a 4th degree DWI, you face a maximum jail term of 90 days behind bars. At trial, the judge has the discretion to set your sentence if you are convicted. Additionally, you could also face a fine of up to $1,000. The court has the power to assess jail time, a fine, or a combination of the two.

In many counties, it is not unusual for the court to set stay any sentence of jail time and order a defendant to serve one to two years of probation. If that person completes probation without facing additional criminal charges, they will never serve any time behind bars.

Does Fourth-Degree DWI Have Mandatory Minimums?

There is no mandatory minimum sentence for a 4th degree DWI under Minnesota law. This is a departure from many of the more serious DWI charges, as they can carry minimum terms of incarceration.

In most cases, the court will not order additional jail time for a fourth-degree DWI. However, there is no guarantee the judge will not order jail in any given case. Additionally, there is always the possibility of probation and fines.

Collateral Consequences of DWI in Minnesota

Not all consequences of a DWI conviction are governed by statute. There are certain collateral consequences that come with a DWI conviction even though they are not written into the state statute. For example, a DWI conviction will result in the suspension of your driving privileges.

A DWI conviction can also damage your reputation. This can do more than impact your personal life. Many employers will refuse to hire someone with a DWI conviction. Landlords also have the right to refuse to lease their property to a person with a criminal conviction.

A conviction could also have other professional consequences. Individuals that require a professional license to make a living could see their license revoked. This is especially true for pilots and professional drivers.

Discuss Your DWI Case With Gerald Miller in Minneapolis

When you’re asking is a 4th degree DWI bad, it depends on where you are in life. For many, the social and professional consequences of a conviction can have a devastating impact. In some cases, a DWI conviction could result in serious consequences like jail time or steep fines.

Before you plead guilty to a DWI charge, let the attorneys of Gerald Miller review your case. Our team understands what it takes to beat a DWI charge and we are ready to help you fight back. Call right away to schedule your free consultation.

This article was originally published on January 11, 2021 and updated on June 14, 2021 and July 16, 2021.

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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