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What Is the Punishment For the First DWI in Minnesota?

A first-time DWI in Minnesota can lead to serious consequences, even if it seems like a minor offense. Under Minnesota DWI law, the consequences for a first-time offense can be severe and far-reaching.

The punishment for a first DWI in MN varies depending on several factors, including your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), whether a minor was in the vehicle, and if you refused chemical testing.

Understanding the Potential Penalties

  • Jail Time: You could face up to 90 days in jail for a first DWI if convicted of a fourth-degree DWI, a misdemeanor. However, if aggravating factors are present, like a high BAC of .16 or above, your charge could be elevated to a gross misdemeanor, with a potential jail sentence of up to one year.
  • Fines: Monetary fines are also a part of the punishment. A first DWI conviction can result in fines up to $1,000 for a misdemeanor, or up to $3,000 for a gross misdemeanor.
  • License Suspension: Your driver’s license will likely be suspended. For a first-time DWI, the suspension typically lasts for 90 days. However, if your BAC was .16 or higher or you refused testing, the suspension can be extended up to one year.
  • Additional Consequences: In addition to the statutory penalties, a first DWI conviction can also lead to administrative penalties like license plate impoundment and vehicle forfeiture. These consequences can be devastating and far-reaching, impacting your job, housing, and personal relationships.

Factors That Can Increase Penalties

Several factors can elevate the severity of a first-time DWI and the corresponding penalties:

  • High BAC: If your BAC is .16 or higher, your charge could be escalated to a gross misdemeanor, resulting in harsher penalties.
  • Minor in the Vehicle: Having a passenger under 16 years old in the car at the time of the DWI can also increase the charges and potential consequences.
  • Test Refusal: Refusing a chemical test will not only lead to automatic license suspension but can also be used as evidence against you in court.

First-Time DWI in Minnesota and Why Legal Counsel is Crucial

There are serious consequences that come with a driving while impaired (DWI) conviction in Minnesota—even for first-time offenders. Even when a person convicted of DWI avoids jail time, they could be haunted by some of the other consequences that can come with a DWI arrest and subsequent conviction. If you’re asking what is the punishment the first DWI in MN, know that there is no definitive answer.

Not every first offense DWI in MN will be treated the same. There are aggravating factors that could dramatically increase the stakes during a DWI trial.

If you have been arrested for DWI in Minnesota, you must seek legal counsel immediately. Your attorney could make a dramatic difference in the outcome of your case. To learn about your defense options, schedule a free consultation with a Minneapolis DWI defense lawyer from Gerald Miller as soon as possible.

Minnesota DWI penalties for a first offense may include jail time, driver's license revocation, and ignition interlock device installation after the revocation period.

Statutory Penalties for a First Offense DWI in Minnesota

Minnesota DUI laws outline various penalties for first-time offenders, including statutory penalties that can significantly impact one’s life.

Statutory—or criminal—penalties are the formal penalties associated with a criminal conviction. Typically, these penalties involve a combination of jail time and monetary fines. Most of the time, a first-time offender is charged with a 4th-degree DWI, the lowest classification of drunken driving offense under state law.

In most cases, a conviction for a first-offense DWI is treated as a misdemeanor. This offense carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. However, there are cases where a first-time offender could face steeper DWI penalties. Three factors can increase a misdemeanor offense to a gross misdemeanor:

  • The driver refused a chemical test
  • The driver had a passenger under the age of 16, or
  • The driver’s BAC was .16 or greater at the time they were driving

A gross misdemeanor is not a felony, but the stakes for a conviction are potentially much higher than a misdemeanor. When asking what is the punishment for the first DWI in Minnesota, it is important to know that a gross felony will be punished more severely. A conviction can lead to up to a year in jail, a fine of no more than $3,000, or a combination of the two.

Administrative Penalties for DWI in Minnesota

In addition to the criminal penalties that come with a conviction, a first-time DWI offender must also face administrative penalties. These administrative penalties relate directly to the defendant’s driving privileges. Instead of these penalties being dealt with during the criminal case, they are administered by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The administrative case against an alleged drunken driver occurs is separate proceedings from the criminal case. In fact, the administrative case can be completed long before the criminal case ever goes to trial.

For a first-time offender, the administrative penalty is typically a 90-day suspension of driving privileges. If the defendant refused a chemical test or had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .16 or more, that period is extended to one year. Many criminal defense attorneys will also defend a driver accused of DWI in their administrative hearings as well.

There are other administrative consequences for some first-time offenders, which are steep. However, they are reserved for the most serious types of first-offense DWIs. If you are convicted of your first DWI while you have a BAC of .16 or greater and you had a minor child in the vehicle at the time of your arrest, the state could impound your license plates. What’s more, in this situation, the state also has the option to pursue vehicle forfeiture. This involves a civil lawsuit where the state seeks to seize the vehicle used in the DWI case. If successful, the state has the right to sell the vehicle and pocket the sale proceeds.

Collateral Consequences for a Minnesota DWI Conviction

There are also collateral consequences that can come with a first-time DWI offense. The most common of these collateral consequences is the damage it can have on your reputation. A DWI conviction carries a significant social stigma that can have a ripple effect throughout your life.

Other collateral consequences could make your life difficult following a DWI conviction. These consequences can still impact you long after you have paid any fines and served your jail time. The most common example is the harm a DWI conviction can have on your ability to maintain employment. Employers are not obligated to offer a job to someone with a criminal record. A DWI conviction could be enough to cost you a job opportunity. The same is true for landlords. Discriminating based on a person’s criminal history is allowed under the law, meaning even a first-time DWI conviction could impact your ability to find suitable housing. Other examples of collateral consequences include:

  • Social Stigma. A conviction for DWI can cause problems in your personal life. While any criminal conviction carries a stigma, the stigma attached to drunken driving offenses is significant.
  • Professional License Loss. Certain professions, like pilots and nurses, require a professional license. If you are convicted of a DWI, that license could be at risk. While most regulating bodies will not revoke a license based on a first-time offense, there is no guarantee that will be the case.
  • Immigration Complications. A criminal conviction of any kind could impact ongoing immigration cases. While a DWI is unlikely on its own to result in deportation and removal for a lawful permanent resident, a criminal case could complicate the process substantially.
  • Child Custody Issues. A conviction for DWI could become an issue in a divorce or child custody dispute. Any criminal conviction could complicate your custody case, but the fallout could be substantial if a minor child was in the car while you were allegedly driving while impaired.


Refusal of a chemical test for blood alcohol content in a first-time DWI offense can result in increased penalties under Minnesota's implied consent laws, including a longer license revocation period.

How Our Team Could Fight DWI Penalties

The attorneys of Gerald Miller have years of experience taking on the prosecution in DWI cases and winning. We have secured dismissals, negotiated fair plea bargains, and prevailed at trial countless times over the years. Some of the ways we could help you diminish the consequences of a DWI include:

  • Negotiate a Plea Bargain. It is not uncommon for DWI cases to be resolved through a plea agreement. Our firm understands the common sentences for DWI at trial and can advise you if the prosecution’s offer is reasonable or not.
  • Investigate Your Case. Every strong defense starts with a thorough investigation. We will look into every aspect of your case to ensure the police stop was legal and that all test results followed mandatory protocol.
  • Litigate. When a dismissal or a plea bargain is not in your best interest, we will not hesitate to take your case to trial. This aggressive approach serves two purposes. By preparing every case as if a trial was inevitable, you can be assured we will be prepared to go before a jury of your peers if the time comes. Additionally, this approach shows the prosecution that we will not back down or accept an unreasonable plea bargain.
  • Move for Dismissal. Sometimes, a defense is strong enough to push the prosecutor or the court to dismiss the charges against you. Our attorneys have experience using the information collected during our investigation and moving for a dismissal. Typically, a motion to dismiss is based on either a faulty blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test result or an illegal traffic stop.

What the State Must Prove in a DWI First-Offense Case

While the penalties for a DWI conviction can vary depending on the number of prior convictions, securing a guilty verdict for a drunk driving offense in Minnesota always requires the same evidence. In Minnesota, DWI offenses are governed by Minnesota Statute Section 169A.20

The statute holds that it is unlawful for any individual to drive, operate, or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two. There are several elements the state must prove before you can be convicted for your first DWI.

Driving a Motor Vehicle

First and foremost, the prosecutor must show that you were driving, operating or in actual control of a motor vehicle. Little explanation is needed for what constitutes driving or operating a motor vehicle, but the term “physical control” is intentionally vague. The statute includes this language to cover situations where a person is not currently driving but could be at any moment.

The most common example of a person in physical control of a vehicle is when they are behind the wheel of a car with the engine running. However, a driver could be even more removed than that and still face DWI charges. A person who is in the vehicle with the keys in their possession could also qualify.

While rarely an issue, the state must also establish that you were operating a motor vehicle. This element matters because some modes of transportation are not considered a motor vehicle, including bicycles, skateboards, or horses.


In addition to driving a motor vehicle, the state must also show that you were impaired at the time. For this element, the prosecution has seven different theories they can rely on. The state only needs to establish one of these theories beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction for DWI. These options 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 driver was under the influence of a combination of alcohol, a controlled substance, or another intoxicating substance known to cause impairment.
  5. The driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.08% or higher within two hours of driving.
  6. For commercial drivers, the BAC was 0.04% or higher within two hours of driving.
  7. The driver’s body contained any amount of a Schedule I or II controlled substance (or its metabolite), excluding marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols.

Prosecutors typically rely on paragraph five when pursuing DWI charges. This is because evidence that the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at or above the legal limit is easier to establish compared to the subjective standard of impairment.

First-time DWI offenses involving commercial drivers or a high blood alcohol content may lead to license revocation, jail sentence, and potential for administrative vehicle forfeiture.

Defense Strategies in DWI Cases

Your defense strategy in a first-time DWI charge is important. Remember: if you are acquitted of all charges, you will never face any of the penalties described above. Beating these charges requires a viable defense strategy. While there are many potential defense options, our firm could help you ensure you build the strongest case based on the facts of your arrest. Generally speaking, there are two common defense strategies in these cases: challenging the arrest and challenging the test.

  • Challenging the arrest. If you are stopped by the police unlawfully, any evidence collected could be barred from trial. This is true of any blood, breath, or urine sample you provide.
  • Challenging the test. The state must meet certain standards when testing blood, breath, or urine for alcohol. The failure to do so could render the results inaccurate.

Discuss Your DWI Defense Options with Gerald Miller Today

As you can see, the potential penalties for even first-time DWI offenders can be steep. There is a possibility of jail, steep fines, and even the forfeiture of your vehicle. While all of these penalties should be taken seriously, the good news is they will only become reality following a conviction.

If you are able to secure an acquittal at trial or a dismissal of the charges against you, the consequences of a first-degree DWI will not materialize. Securing a favorable outcome in your DWI case is never guaranteed, but the attorneys of Gerald Miller are ready to give you the best shot at prevailing in your case.

If you’re asking what is the punishment for the first DWI in MN, you may put yourself at risk by defending yourself in your DWI case. Even though the penalties for a DWI are minor in a relative sense, a conviction could prove to be costly. A Minneapolis DWI defense lawyer at Gerald Miller will understand what is at stake in a DWI case. Reach out today to schedule your free consultation with Gerald Miller.

Consequences of a first-time DWI charge can extend beyond criminal penalties to include administrative actions like license plate impoundment (whiskey plates) and increased insurance costs.

Related Content: What Happens When You Get a DWI in Minneapolis?

About the author

Tyler Dahlen

Tyler weaves legal expertise with unwavering compassion in his criminal defense practice. Each case becomes a personal crusade, uncovering the human story beneath the headlines and crafting meticulous strategies that challenge the system and fight for a second chance. His relentless pursuit of justice in even the most complex DWI cases has earned him a reputation as a champion for the underdog, a voice for the unheard, and a beacon of hope in the face of adversity.

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