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Is a DWI a Misdemeanor or a Felony in Minnetonka?

As is the case with many legal issues, the answer to the question “is a DWI a misdemeanor or a felony in Minnetonka” is that it depends. While first-time offenses are typically misdemeanors, there are situations where the state could pursue felony DWI charges.

The difference between felony and misdemeanor cases is tremendous. While a misdemeanor has the potential for jail time, the maximum sentence for a felony DWI is substantially longer.

In either case, a conviction is never a certainty when it comes to DWI charges in Minnetonka. With the right legal team by your side, you could see your case dismissed or prevail at trial. Contact the attorneys of Gerald Miller right away to discuss your defense options.


When a DWI is a Misdemeanor

Most of the DWI charges filed in Minnetonka are treated as misdemeanors. This should come as no surprise given that most people facing DWI charges have never been arrested for that offense before.

First-time offenders make up a large part of the people facing DWI charges, but many people with a previous conviction could also be charged with a misdemeanor. It is important to note that there are different categories of misdemeanor offense under state law: standard and gross misdemeanor.


Misdemeanor Penalties

The major difference between standard and gross misdemeanors is the maximum sentence. While a standard misdemeanor carries a maximum jail term of 90 days, a gross misdemeanor could lead to up to a year behind bars. There are also differences in the maximum fine that applies. A standard misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $1,000 while a gross misdemeanor has a maximum fine of $3,000.

There are other consequences that can come with a misdemeanor DWI conviction. You can also face administrative penalties including the seizure of your license plates, the suspension of your driving privileges, or even the forfeiture of your vehicle. You have the right to dispute these administrative penalties, but your timeline to do so is short. The sooner you contact an attorney, the better your chances could be for avoiding a license suspension.


Understanding the Lookback Period

Typically, a person’s first, second, and third DWI conviction is treated as a misdemeanor under the law. Not every prior DWI conviction is the same, however. This is thanks to something known as Minnesota’s “lookback” period.

Prosecutors do not count every previous misdemeanor DWI conviction when they are determining whether or not a charge is a felony or a misdemeanor. The state can only consider previous convictions that fill within the lookback period, which is the ten-year period from the date of the arrest.


When a DWI is a Felony

Felonies are reserved for the most serious DWI cases. These cases carry steeper penalties, but only certain fact patterns will elevate a case from a misdemeanor to a felony. In total, there are three different types of ways a DWI could lead to a felony charge.

The first and most common factor is when a driver has three or more prior DWI convictions with the lookback period. A fourth or subsequent DWI within 10 years is always treated as a felony.

The second situation involves a prior conviction for felony DWI. While there is a lookback period for misdemeanor offenses, that is not the case for a felony. If you have ever been convicted of felony DWI, your next DWI arrest will also be a felony.

Finally, you could face a felony DWI charge if you have previously been convicted of a felony vehicle offense. A common example is vehicular homicide.


Penalty for a Felony DWI

The penalties for a felony DWI conviction can be substantially greater compared to a misdemeanor. In fact, the maximum prison term is seven times longer than the maximum sentence for a gross misdemeanor. If you are convicted of felony DWI, you could spend up to seven years in state prison. You could also face a fine of up to $14,000.


Talk to a Minnesota DWI Attorney Right Away

If you are facing a misdemeanor or felony DWI charge in Minnetonka, now is the time to speak to an attorney. Contact the attorneys of Gerald Miller today for a free consultation.

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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