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Every state outlaws driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and Minneapolis is no exception. Law enforcement throughout the state 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. 

The Minneapolis DWI attorneys 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 Intoxication

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. 

How a 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 lawyers at Gerald Miller to schedule your initial consultation as soon as possible on (612) 405-5522.

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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