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What Is a DWI in Minneapolis?

Every state outlaws driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and Minneapolis is no exception. Not too many people ask what is a DUI, but many do ask what is a DWI? The answer is that rather than “driving under the influence’, DWO Law enforcement throughout the state of Minnesota takes an aggressive approach to enforcing these laws, and a conviction can have lasting consequences on your personal and professional life.

Thankfully, an arrest for driving while intoxicated (DWI) never guarantees a conviction. The police are only human, and all too often they make mistakes. If the police have wrongfully arrested you for DWI or lack the evidence necessary to prove that you have committed a crime, a strong legal defense could help you prevail at trial.

A Minneapolis DWI defense lawyer at Gerald Miller can review every aspect of your arrest and advise you on the best defense strategy for your situation. Schedule your initial consultation right away.

Understanding DWI Intoxication in Minneapolis

In Minneapolis, the charge of DWI is governed by Minneapolis Statute Section 169A.20. According to the statute, it is unlawful to drive, operate, or be in physical control of a motor vehicle when the driver is intoxicated. The statute includes different subsections related to the operation of motor vehicles, motorboats, all-terrain vehicles, and motorcycles.

Actual Physical Control

The definition of driving or operating a motor vehicle is straight forward. It is less clear what constitutes “actual physical control” of a motor vehicle, however. What is important about the wording of the statute is that a DWI arrest could be appropriate in some cases where the defendant was not driving or operating the vehicle.

Minneapolis courts have decided many cases that involved the definition of “actual physical control.” In general, a defendant has actual physical control of the vehicle if they are within a vehicle and have the means to operate it. Whether or not the defendant was in possession of the keys to the vehicle is often central to these cases.


As seasoned Minneapolis DWI lawyers, we know that the statute provides for seven different circumstances that can amount to intoxication. The prosecutor will only need to establish that one of these occurred while a defendant was driving, operating, or in actual physical control of a vehicle to obtain a conviction. They include:

  1. The defendant was under the influence of alcohol
  2. The defendant was under the influence of drugs
  3. The defendant was knowingly under the influence of a substance that causes impairment
  4. The defendant was under the influence of any combination of the substances in the first three elements
  5. The defendant had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more
  6. The vehicle involved was a commercial vehicle, and its operator held a BAC of .04 or more
  7. The defendant’s body contained measurable amounts of Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substances

Many prosecutors rely on the 5th prong related to a driver’s BAC to make their DWI case. Known as “per se” DWI, a prosecutor need only establish that the defendant’s BAC was at .08 or above at the time they were driving. No other evidence is necessary to satisfy this prong of the DWI statute.

Prosecutors have other options in cases where the accused refuses to submit to a chemical test, or even when their BAC results are below the legal limit. The state must provide additional information in those cases to obtain a conviction, however.

Types of DWI Charges in Minneapolis

All DWI charges in Minneapolis fall into one of four categories. These categories, known as degrees, determine the potential penalties upon conviction. The degrees of DWI offenses are numbered first through fourth, with a first-degree DWI representing the most serious offense. While a first degree DWI is a felony according to state law, the other three offenses are misdemeanors.

Each of these offenses carries the potential for jail time or fines. While misdemeanor convictions will result in time behind bars in county jail, a felony offense can lead to a sentence in a state penitentiary. If you’ve been charged with any of these, consult a skilled Minneapolis DWI lawyer at the earliest to understand your rights and best defenses.

First Degree DWI

The only felony DWI under Minneapolis law, this charge is used for defendants that either:

  • Have three or more prior DWI convictions in the preceding 10 years or
  • Have previously been convicted of felony DWI

The penalties for a first degree DWI are steep. In addition to a maximum fine of $14,000, a conviction could also include a prison sentence between three and seven years.

Second Degree DWI

While second degree DWI charges are serious, they are still a misdemeanor under the law. Prosecutors use a charge of second degree DWI in cases where the accused has either two aggravating factors or one aggravating factor and also refused to submit to a chemical test.

There are various aggravating factors according to the statute. Some examples include prior DWI convictions or high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. A conviction for second degree DWI can carry up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $3,000.

Third Degree DWI

A third-degree DWI is the appropriate charge in cases where the accused has a single aggravating factor, or if they refused to submit to a chemical test. Upon conviction, a third-degree DWI carries up to a year in jail and a fine of no more than $3,000.

Fourth Degree DWI

The lowest level of these charges is fourth-degree DWI. This offense is limited to drivers with zero aggravating factors who have also not refused to submit to a chemical test. A conviction for fourth-degree DWI can carry a maximum of 90 days in jail and a fine of no more than $1,000.

Depending on your specific case facts, aggressive representation by a Minneapolis DWI attorney may be helpful in dealing with these charges.

Collateral consequences for a DWI Conviction

If you are convicted of a DWI, the consequences of that conviction could mean far more than time behind bars or steep fines that empty your bank account. In fact, there are other consequences that can follow you long after you have served your sentence and paid down your fines. These are known as collateral consequences.

  • Collateral consequences are the consequences that result indirectly from your conviction. While jail time and fines are the penalties prescribed by statute, these collateral consequences occur independently. Some common examples of collateral consequences for a DWI conviction include:
  • Loss of Constitutional Rights. While this is not an issue with misdemeanor DWI, a felony conviction could cost you some of your constitutional rights. Examples include your right to vote or own a firearm.
  • Loss of Employment. In Minnesota, employers have no obligation to hire or retain a person with a criminal record. This is especially true if your job requires you to have a valid driver’s license. Losing a job is a common collateral consequence of a DWI conviction.
  • Housing Challenges. You could face similar challenges when seeking adequate housing. Landlords rely on many of the same background checks as employers. They have the right to reject an applicant with a criminal record—especially a person with a felony DWI conviction.

One of the most challenging aspects of collateral consequences is that there is nothing within the terms of a plea bargain that can prevent them. While the prosecutor can make a recommendation on jail time or fines, they have little say on what happens when your employer finds out about your DWI conviction.

Given the long-lasting impact of a DWI conviction, sometimes your best option is fighting back at trial. Even a reasonable plea bargain might have unexpected consequences. In many cases, the best way to protect your future and secure your legal rights is by taking your case to trial.

The attorneys of Gerald Miller never back down from litigating a DWI case. We have a long track record of success and are prepared to advocate for you before a jury of your peers.

Is It Possible to Beat a DWI in Minneapolis?

While no attorney can guarantee a successful outcome in your DWI case, these charges are often defensible. Our team will work tirelessly to give you the best chance to avoid a conviction.

Pushing back against the allegation of intoxication is central to many DWI defenses. After all, if you were not intoxicated you cannot be guilty of DWI. The best approach to proving this can differ depending on the facts of your case. For example, if you refused to submit to a chemical test the state might have little in the way of evidence that you were above the legal limit at the time of the accident. However, the appropriate defense strategy could shift if the police have obtained a BAC result that is over the legal limit.

Defenses Against DWI Test Results

There are two powerful defense strategies that could nullify or even exclude the results of a breath, blood, or urine test. The first involves attacking the validity of the traffic stop. The second is related to the chemical test itself.

Every traffic stop must occur as the result of an officer’s reasonable suspicion. In other words, the police may not pull you over unless they can articulate a reasonable suspicion that you have committed some sort of crime or moving violation. Often, police make these tops after witnessing a motorist speeding or running a stoplight. However, not all police abide by the law. When police arbitrarily pull drivers over, any evidence they collect could be excluded at trial. This could include anything from an admission of drinking to a breathalyzer test sample.

Another route to beating a DWI charge is through challenging the chemical test itself. There are strict guidelines that must be following when it comes to collecting blood, breath, or urine samples. Likewise, there are also strict rules on how these samples are tested. The failure to comply with these rules could taint a sample and make the result of the test unreliable. For that reason, defense attorneys will investigate every aspect of the testing process to ensure compliance.

How a Minneapolis DWI Defense Lawyer Can Help

It is never easy to face charges of DWI. Even fourth-degree DWI convictions carry the potential for severe penalties, and the consequences only become steeper with more serious offenses.

The good news is that you have the right to have experienced legal counsel at your side. The right Minneapolis DWI attorney could review the charges against you and help you develop the strongest defense possible. To learn more about your defense options, contact the Minneapolis DWI Defense lawyers at Gerald Miller to schedule your initial consultation as soon as possible on (612) 405-5522.

About the author

William Bailey

Bill brings his strategic mind and calm demeanor to criminal defense. From DWIs to murder charges, he’s tackled it all across Minnesota, leaving a trail of satisfied clients and courtroom victories. He won’t sugarcoat the process, but with his empathy and expertise, he’ll guide you through it, ensuring you understand every step and feel supported every way. When he’s not in the courtroom, catch him at the lake or cheering on his favorite teams.

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