The Ultimate Guide to DWI/DUI Defense in Minneapolis
Being charged with DUI can leave you reeling. You face a mandatory court date, may lose your job if you cannot get a provisional license, and the fines and jail time can be stiff if you don’t have a strong DUI Defense.
However, most first-time offenders can avoid serving time and losing all driving privileges. In addition, some DUI cases lack the proper evidence, and you may have a strong defense, such as a medical condition being mistaken for impairment.
After a DUI arrest, the state automatically suspends your driver’s license. The police issue arrestees temporary paper licenses good for seven days. This gives you time to square away any necessary errands before the suspension takes place.
The first errand you should schedule is a meeting with a DUI defense attorney. A DUI defense lawyer will apprise you of the process, evaluate your case, and help you obtain a provisional driver’s license. A provisional license allows you to drive for specific purposes, such as to work, buy groceries, and attend medical appointments.
After taking care of the immediate, your lawyer helps you plan your defense. As with all legal proceedings, DUI court cases are multi-step processes that take months or years to resolve fully.
Your attorney will conduct discovery, requesting that the state provide access to all evidence against you. You may be surprised that the state’s case is shaky or non-existent. Based on your account of the situation and the state’s evidence, your attorney can advise you on your chances of excluding evidence and winning the case.
What Is a DUI?
DUI stands for driving under the influence and refers specifically to alcohol. To win a DUI case, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant drove while impaired by alcohol.
Note that the key to securing a conviction is proving impairment, not that the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was above the legal limit of .08.
Minnesota’s DUI statutes establish a zero-tolerance standard. Accordingly, a person commits DUI if he is impaired by alcohol to any level, even if tests show definitively that his BAC was under the legal limit.
For example, suppose the police pull over a driver swerving between lanes. The officer notices the driver slurs his speech and is having difficulty remaining awake. He asks the suspect if he has been drinking, and the driver answers he had a few shots at a bar.
Suspicious of DUI, the officer conducts a field sobriety test, which shows the driver has trouble maintaining balance. He then administered a portable breathalyzer showing the suspect had a BAC of .07.
But portable breathalyzers are notoriously inaccurate and are inadmissible in court because of this. Because the officer has other probable cause to arrest the suspect, including his driving behavior, signs of intoxication, the admission that he was drinking, and field sobriety test results, the officer can still place the suspect under arrest for DUI.
The officer takes the suspect to the station and administers a chemical test admissible in court—the subject tests at BAC .06.
Is he off the hook?
Probably not. The standard for conviction is impairment, and the police have developed evidence that shows the individual was impaired by alcohol. When the case comes to court, a judge decides innocence or guilt based on whether the defendant was impaired by alcohol, and the .06 result, while better for the defense than a .08 or above, is not the essential question.
To win, the defense needs to establish reasonable doubt as to impairment.
In this case, the defendant did himself a disservice in several ways. Firstly, he did not assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. As a result, the police have evidence he was at a bar doing shots.
Secondly, he agreed to take the field sobriety test, which gives the prosecution evidence that he was impaired.
The defendant would have made his lawyer’s job easier if he had declined to talk to the police and refused the field sobriety test. The state would then have a more difficult time proving impairment, leaving room to establish reasonable doubt and defeat the case.
For these reasons, always assert your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and understand you can refuse to take field sobriety- and portable breathalyzer tests. Instead, under implied consent laws, you must take a chemical test administered at the police station or hospital. If this result turns out to be below .08, the state will lose its case if it lacks other evidence to prove impairment beyond a reasonable doubt.
DUI vs. DWI In Minnesota
While DUI pertains to alcohol, driving while intoxicated (DWI) refers to driving while impaired by alcohol, a different drug, or both. For instance, if a motorist is under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, he may face a DWI charge.
Also, DWI charges apply when no alcohol is involved, but the defendant is alleged to have been under the influence of another scheduled substance, such as methamphetamine. Additionally, impairment from prescription- or over-the-counter medicines can result in a Minnesota DWI charge.
As with DUI, the standard for DWI conviction is zero-tolerance. This means that if the defendant suffered any impairment due to a qualified substance, he is guilty of DWI. One of the strongest defenses would be that the defendant had no impairment.
For example, suppose a motorist suddenly feels drowsy, pulls over to the side of the road, and falls asleep. A police officer wakes the person and asks if he has been drinking. The person says no but admits that he took over-the-counter sleeping pills before driving, believing he could get home before they made him too sleepy. He then says they did, and he nearly crashed, so he pulled over to sleep.
Under this scenario, the driver may have talked himself into a DWI charge. He admitted he took the sleeping pills and that they impaired him while he was operating the car.
This serves as an example of why asserting your Fifth Amendment rights is so important. Even though this individual was not under the influence of alcohol or any illegal substance, he was impaired by a legal substance, making it possible for him to be convicted of DWI. However, had he remained silent, the police may have had no evidence of impairment or the influence of a substance.
There is no law against tired drivers pulling over to rest. In fact, safety experts recommend fatigued drivers do just that.
What Are Minnesota’s DUI Degrees?
Minnesota breaks down DUI charges by four degrees based on the level of intoxication and the defendant’s record. Penalties vary according to the DUI degree. Offenders can avoid incarceration when convicted of misdemeanor DUI, but a repeat offender facing first-degree DUI may spend time in prison.
A first-degree charge is the most serious DUI in Minnesota. Because it constitutes a felony, prison time is on the table. Convicts may face up to seven years in state prison and fines of up to $14,000. A defendant may be convicted of first-degree DUI if one of the following applies:
- Four or more DUI priors in the previous ten years
- A prior felony DUI
- Other drug- or alcohol-related felonies
A second-degree DUI charge constitutes a gross misdemeanor. Convicts face up to one year in jail and fines of up to $3,000. A defendant faces a second-degree DUI under the following circumstances:
- BAC of .16 or more
- A minor is in the vehicle
A third-degree DUI is also a gross misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail and fines of up to $3,000. A defendant may face third-degree DUI charges if a first-time offender and the BAC level is less than extreme.
Fourth-degree DUI is a regular misdemeanor. Conviction carries up to 9 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Fourth-degree DUIs apply to first-time offenders where no aggravating factors, such as extremely high BAC, apply.
Other consequences of a DUI conviction include the following:
Increased Insurance Costs
Insurers calculate the increased risk of covering drivers with a DUI. Some DUI convicts can only obtain secondary coverage at a very high premium.
Revoked Driver’s License
Judges may suspend or revoke your driver’s license, depending on the severity of the offense and your record. You may have eligibility for a provisional license, allowing you to drive to work and perform other essential activities.
Ignition Interlock Devices
As a condition of being able to drive, the court may order you to install an ignition interlock device at your own expense. These devices prevent the vehicle from starting if you have alcohol in your body.
DUIs lead to many expenses beyond court-imposed fines, including bail, impound costs, license reinstatement fees, attorneys fees, and court costs.
No one wants to contemplate a DUI conviction. It creates a criminal record, restricts your driving privileges, costs thousands of dollars, and can land you behind bars.
However, an arrest for DUI does not mean you will be convicted. The state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Often, police officers use illegally obtained evidence, or another explanation exists for why the defendant may have appeared intoxicated.
When stopped for suspicion of DUI, it’s essential to remain silent. Though Minnesota’s implied consent law requires you to submit to chemical tests at the police station or hospital, you can refuse field sobriety and portable breathalyzer tests.
A vigorous defense can make the difference between going to jail and remaining free.
Contact Gerald Miller, P.A., for an expert DUI or DWI consultation.
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