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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 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, it is vital that you seek out legal counsel right away. 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.

Statutory Penalties for a First Offense DWI in Minnesota

Statutory—or criminal—penalties are the formal penalties that come 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. This is 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. There are cases where first-time offender could face steeper DWI penalties, however. There are three factors that 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 compared to 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, it is possible for the administrative case to 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, and these consequences 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 great 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 proceeds of the sale.

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 significant social stigma that can have a ripple effect throughout your life.

There are other collateral consequences that 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 under no obligation to offer a job to a person 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 first-time DWI conviction could impact your ability to find suitable housing. Other examples if 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.

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 offer made to you by the prosecution 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 that it pushes 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.

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.


This blog was originally published on March 22, 2021 and updated on July 21, 2021.

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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