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What is a Felony DWI?

Felony. It’s a scary word and its meaning feels especially frightening to anyone facing the charge. Under Minnesota DWI laws, four driving while impaired offenses within a 10-year period is considered a felony. At the same time, Minnesota also has the “once a felon, always a felon” distinction when it comes to Felony DWI and other serious criminal cases. 

Facing felony DWI charge? This blog will explain Felony DWI in Minnesota and what you need to know to beat the charge if you’ve been arrested. 

What is a DUI or DWI in Minnesota? 

In Minnesota, driving while impaired is typically referred to by the public and across the legal system as “DWI” or “DUI.” It can result in both criminal and administrative, including the loss of your driver’s license. Typically, the severity of these penalties increases when a person has previous DWI convictions. In Minnesota, a Felony DWI – also called first-degree DWI – can carry the most serious consequences.

The first and most important thing to remember is to stay calm and hire an experienced Felony DWI attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. If you have been arrested for Felony DWI, or any impaired driving charge, contact the criminal defense lawyers at Gerald Miller, P.A. at 612-440-4610. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to give you some answers, a little hope and plenty of well-deserved peace of mind. We are here to help. 

What is a Felony DWI in Minnesota?

Minnesota law defines driving while impaired as driving, operating, or being in physical control of a motor vehicle while:

  • under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance that can affect the body and substantially impair driving abilities
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater, or
  • having any amount of a Schedule I or II drug — except marijuana — in the body.

Upon a lawful arrest for DWI, Minnesota statute also makes it a crime to refuse to take a breath alcohol test. This offense is called an implied consent or test refusal crime and is treated like a DWI conviction. That said, when it comes to a Minnesota Felony DWI arrest, motorists need to understand their rights when an officer starts asking questions or making demands during a traffic stop. In other words, you are in charge of your rights, and it’s your responsibility to make sure you are aware of them. 

Be Polite, But Stay Quiet 

Never, ever answer questions about whether you’ve been drinking. There is no good yes or no answer. If you say you haven’t been drinking, and an officer notes slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of booze on your breath, the lie will be included in the officer’s report on your arrest. At the same time, if you admit to drinking – even if you say you had a few beers earlier in the day – the officer will consider it justification to investigate you for driving while impaired. Even if you admit to one drink, it is considered another reason for the officer to expand the scope of the stop and get you out of the vehicle.

What to do? The best answer is no answer. You will never be able to talk your way out of a Minnesota DWI arrest.  In other words, you should only provide brief and concise answers that do not volunteer damaging information, such as telling the officer that you are uncomfortable answering his or her questions without an attorney present.

All Minnesota drivers should remember their right to remain silent. Do not offer any information until you have spoken to an attorney who specializes in drunk driving cases like the team at the Felony DWI Law Firm Gerald Miller, P.A. Call us at 612-440-4610. Remember, we are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you.

Here is where things can get complicated. A DWI becomes a felony-level offense if the motorist has:

  • Three prior DWIs that occurred within the past 10 years
  • A prior felony DWI, or
  • A prior felony vehicular homicide or vehicular injury conviction that involved alcohol or drugs.

What Now? 

A person who’s arrested for a Felony DWI may be required to stay in jail until their first court date. It’s typically not until then that a judge will set bail and specify the conditions of release. Conditions of release will likely include:

  • Abstaining from alcohol and drugs
  • Random alcohol breath testing or urine analysis
  • Weekly reporting to a probation agent, and
  • Vehicle plate impoundment.

It is a terrifying situation, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. The office of Minnesota felony DWI defense lawyer Gerald Miller, P.A. is here to help you. Call our experienced legal team today at 612-440-4610. We offer free consultations and are available anytime. We’re on your side.  

What are Administrative Penalties?

Administrative penalties are imposed by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety — and are designed to impose a swift consequence. These penalties can be imposed upon or soon after a DWI arrest and may apply even if the person accused is never convicted of a DWI in criminal court.

For a felony DWI, administrative penalties can include:

  • Driver’s license cancelation 
  • Plate impoundment, and
  • Vehicle forfeiture.

License Cancelation and Ignition Interlock 

People who have their driver’s license canceled (as opposed to revoked for first and second offenses), must install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) on their vehicles. IIDs are required not only to drive during the cancelation period, but also to reinstate driving privileges once the cancelation period is done.

The Ignition Interlock Device device is the size of a hand-held calculator and includes a blowing tube. It prevents your vehicle from starting if it detects a certain alcohol concentration level after you blow into the tube. The device is installed near the steering wheel and connected to the engine. Drivers whose licenses are canceled and whose privileges are denied as are required to enroll in the Ignition Interlock Device Program for a period of three to six years in order to regain full driving privileges.

There are several complicated steps that must be finished before you can get your license reinstated. Usually there is an added condition of complying with a chemical health assessment prior to being approved for the interlock device and program. If this is the case, let us help you. Minnesota DWI defense lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. can help defend your case and your rights. We may be able to get your charges reduced, depending on the circumstances of your case.   

Plate Impoundment

Plate impoundment refers to the removal and surrender of a vehicle’s license plates. The plate impoundment order applies to all vehicles registered in the person’s name, whether alone or jointly. To drive that vehicle again, the offender must apply for special registration plates — which are also known as “whiskey plates.”


At the time of arrest for a felony DWI, the police officer may seize the person’s vehicle. Typically, a forfeiture cases begins when the driver is given a notice of intent to forfeit the vehicle. If the owner doesn’t challenge the forfeiture within 60 days of that notice, or if the argument does not succeed in challenging the forfeiture, the arresting agency may keep the vehicle for its own use, or sell the vehicle and retain the profit from the sale.

Criminal Penalties

Criminal penalties are imposed by a criminal court following a DWI conviction. For a non-felony DWI in Minnesota, the maximum sentence can be one year (for a gross misdemeanor specifically), which is usually served in the county jail. 

Felony DWI, in contrast, carries the possibility of three to seven years in a Minnesota state prison. A person convicted of a felony DWI offense is also looking at some sizable fines — up to $14,000 worth.

Prison Sentences

Felony DWI offenders who receive prison sentences are not eligible for early release until they successfully complete a chemical dependency treatment. After release from prison, the person will be on conditional release for five years. The terms of conditional release may include intensive probation. Failing to comply with conditional release terms can land a person back in prison.

Stayed Sentences

Technically, the minimum prison sentence for a felony DWI in Minnesota is three years. However, the court has the option to stay the prison sentence and instead impose a jail sentence or intensive probation. If the court chooses to do so, the person must complete chemical dependency treatment and long-term alcohol monitoring. If the person violates any probation conditions, the court can revoke the stay and send the person to prison.

The Financial Costs of a Felony (or Non-Felony) DWI

The costs of criminal and administrative penalties can add up fast. They include:

  • criminal fines and surcharges
  • chemical dependency assessment fees and surcharges
  • treatment and monitoring costs, and
  • in some cases, bail and penalty assessments.

In addition, in order to regain driving privileges, the person must pay:

  • a driver’s license examination fee
  • DWI reinstatement fee and surcharge (totaling $680),
  • plate impoundment fees, and
  • the costs of an ignition interlock device for at least four years.

Get Legal Help

Minnesota DWI law is complex to navigate, and the facts of every case are different — including yours. If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence, call the experienced DWI attorneys at Gerald Miller, P.A. right away. Our skilled DWI lawyers and team can help you decide on the best course of action and find the best way to protect your rights. 

About Gerald Miller, P.A.

Were you or someone you love arrested for DWI, BWI or SWI? The process can be worrisome – or even frightening. There is a lot of legal jargon to weave through and court dates to attend.

You’re not alone. We can help, whether it’s your first DWI or if you’ve been convicted in the past. 

If you are facing a Minnesota DWI conviction, the experienced Minneapolis DWI attorneys at Gerald Miller, P.A. will review your case and determine the best course of action. We will guide you through the process, working toward a positive outcome no matter the circumstances of the arrest. Our firm has a high success rate. We’ve fought cases all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court. We dig into every aspect of the case, from the time of the arrest the officer’s actions to the accuracy of your Breathalyzer test.

What makes Gerald Miller different from other Minnesota criminal defense lawyers?

The Minneapolis lawyers at Gerald Miller handle all aspects of criminal law across the Twin Cities and statewide, but we have focused on DWIs for nearly 40 years. A DWI affects your driving ability, your finances, and your professional reputation. Don’t let one mistake negatively impact your future. 

We have earned dozens of positive Google, Yelp and Facebook reviews from satisfied clients. Our firm is widely recognized throughout the Twin Cities for our professionalism, compassion, knowledge, and dedication both in and out of the courtroom. The Minneapolis DWI attorneys at Gerald Miller DWI Law Firm are respected by our peers, colleagues, judges, and prosecutors. We have earned national awards and accolades from the American Bar Association, The National Trial Lawyers, the American Institute of DWI/DUI Attorneys, the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the National Academy for DUI Defense, and more. 

Gerald Miller, P.A. also has received the elite “SuperLawyer” distinction by Thomson Reuters. 

Legal Counsel is Critical to Success

The sooner you contact us, the faster we can start protecting your rights.  Even if your case cannot be dismissed, the charges may be reduced and punishment can be minimized, which are positive outcomes as well. There are a number of details in each person’s case that could have a huge impact on the possible outcome. It also helps if you were cooperative at the time of your arrest and if you followed the court’s requirements prior to your hearing, including completing an alcohol assessment and/or DWI classes.

Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation at 612-430-6743. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to give you some answers, a little hope, and plenty of well-deserved peace of mind. Visit www.geraldmillerlawyer.com or check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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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