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Minnesota Impaired Driving Laws, Penalties and Fines

The criminal offense of driving while impaired—or DWI, as it is commonly known—serves as one of the most common offenses leading to an arrest in Minneapolis. Every day, the police pull over and arrest motorists in Minnesota under suspicion of DWI. These laws can vary across state lines, and Minnesota regularly alters its criminal statutes. For that reason, it is helpful to stay up-to-date on the laws with the help of a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis. This includes the statute governing the offense as well as any penalties that might apply.

An arrest for DWI is serious, but it never guarantees a conviction. With an aggressive defense strategy, you might be able to have your case dismissed or prevail at trial. Building a winning defense starts with finding the right attorney. Reach out to the attorneys of Gerald Miller today to discuss your options.

DWI Laws in Minnesota

The charge of DWI in Minneapolis is complex. There are several things the state must prove in order to secure a conviction, and their failure to meet even one of these elements requires an acquittal. Before you can fight back against a DWI charge, it is important to understand the burden that faces state prosecutors.

In Minneapolis, the offense of DWI is governed by Minnesota Statute 169A.20. According to the statute, it is illegal to “drive, operate, or be in physical control of a motor vehicle” while impaired. To understand what constitutes a DWI under state law, it is necessary to know what each of these terms means.


What Does it Mean to Drive, Operate, or be in Physical Control of a Vehicle?

The first aspect of any DWI case involves the use of a motor vehicle. This makes sense, as the charge does not relate to impaired individuals who are nowhere near a motor vehicle.

There is little debate regarding what it means to drive or operate a motor vehicle. However, it may not be clear to everyone what “physical control” of a vehicle means. This part of the statute was added to give the state additional leeway in making DWI arrests. The language was included to criminalize not only driving while impaired but also to criminalize being in a position to easily drive while impaired.

The most common example of being in physical control of a vehicle is sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition. Even if a person is not driving, being in a position where they are in control of a vehicle and could easily drive at any moment could result in a DWI conviction.

Finally, it is helpful to understand what constitutes a motor vehicle under the law. According to the statute, a motor vehicle is:

every vehicle that is self-propelled and every vehicle that is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires. The term includes motorboats in operation and off-road recreational vehicles but does not include a vehicle moved solely by human power.

In other words, cars trucks, motorboats, and even trolleys are covered by the statute. However, bicycles, horses, and skateboards are not.


What Does it Mean to be Impaired in Minnesota?

Whether or not a person is impaired according to the law is a complex question. In fact, the statute provides state prosecutors with seven different ways to prove that a person is impaired. These include:

  1. the person is under the influence of alcohol;
  2. the person is under the influence of a controlled substance;
  3. 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;
  4. the person is under the influence of a combination of any two or more of the elements named in clauses (1) to (3);
  5. 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;
  6. 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
  7. 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 state must only establish that one of these seven elements has been met in order to secure a conviction for DUI. The most common that most prosecutors rely on is section five, which makes it a crime to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or .08 or more.

This is a strong option for prosecutors, as it does not require the state to rely on any subjective evidence. If they can show the driver’s test results were at or above .08, they have the evidence they need.

However, not every driver submits to a chemical test. When a BAC result is not available, the state could rely on any of the other options. These require subjective proof that a person was “under the influence” of a substance, which can be difficult for the state to prove.


Possible Penalties and Fines in Minnesota

There are numerous consequences that can come with a conviction for DWI in Minneapolis. The most obvious penalties involve jail time and fines, but these are only two examples. There are also administrative license revocations to consider as well as collateral consequences.


Jail Time

The prospect of going to prison or jail is often at the forefront of most people’s minds following a DWI arrest. While first-time offenders often do not face additional jail time upon conviction, people with previous convictions on their record could spend time behind bars. If committed within 10 years of a prior offense, these penalties could include:

  • 1st Offense: Up to 90 days in jail
  • 2nd Offense: Up to 1 year in jail, could face a minimum of 30 days in jail
  • 3rd Offense: Up to 1 year in jail, could face a minimum of 90 days in jail
  • 4th Offense: Between 180 days and 7 years in prison
  • 5th or Subsequent Offense: Between 1 and 7 years in prison

There are different factors that could increase the penalties you face for a DWI conviction. If you refuse to submit to a breath test, have a BAC twice the legal limit, or have a child in the car with you under the age of 16 years of age, you could have faced steeper penalties for a DWI.



There are also steep monetary fines that you must take into account following a DWI conviction. These fines are paid directly to the court, and your sentence is not considered complete until you do so. The number of fines you could face following a DWI conviction, again based on whether there are prior DWIs in the previous 10-year period, includes:

  • 1st Offense: Maximum fine of $1,000
  • 2nd Offense: Maximum fine of $3,000
  • 3rd Offense: Maximum fine of $3,000
  • 4th Offense: Maximum fine of $14,000
  • 5th or Subsequent Offense: Maximum fine of $14,000


License Revocation

Another aspect of your DWI arrest is that you could lose your driving privileges. In fact, you could lose these privileges before you are ever convicted of DWI. This is because the state pursues administrative action against anyone who has been arrested for a DWI. If you do not request a hearing in short order following your arrest, the state could take your license from you.


Collateral Consequences

You could also face collateral consequences for your DWI conviction. These are consequences that are not direct penalties associated with the DWI statute, but they apply to your case nonetheless.

Any criminal conviction—including for DWI—could impact your ability to get a job in the future. Likewise, it could harm your chances of keeping a job you already have. In addition to employment, it is also legal to discriminate in housing based on your criminal record. Other collateral consequences for felony convictions could involve the loss of your right to vote or own a firearm.


Talk to Criminal Defense Attorney in Minneapolis About Your DWI Arrest

If you have been charged with DWI in Minneapolis, you have options available to you. With the right attorney, you could work out a fair plea bargain or take your case to trial.

The attorneys of Gerald Miller are ready to review your case and develop a defense strategy. Call as soon as possible for a free consultation with Gerald Miller.

About the author

Kyle Dreger

Kyle Dreger is a skilled DUI/DWI and Criminal Defense lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. Kyle has received his law degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He is also a professionally trained basketball player.

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