Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, known as driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Minnesota, is illegal and can carry serious penalties. Minnesota's DWI laws set the limits for blood alcohol levels, the rules for testing, and the penalties for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits in Minnesota
Like most other states, Minnesota sets the maximum "per se" legal BAC at 0.08%. This means that if a driver has a .08% BAC, there doesn't need to be any other evidence of impairment to support a DWI conviction. Minnesota drivers can also be charged with an "aggravated DWI" which allows for enhanced penalties if the driver has a BAC of 0.16% or higher. And for drivers under the legal drinking age of 21 years old, Minnesota has a "zero tolerance law" under which any positive BAC test, no matter how low, may result in a DWI conviction.
If you think just trying to avoid a BAC test at all costs is a good strategy, you should know that Minnesota, like many other states, has what is known as an "implied consent" law. This means that just by operating a motor vehicle in the state you have consented to a chemical test of your breath, blood, or urine to determine the presence of alcohol or other controlled substance in your body. If you refuse a chemical test, your driving privileges can be revoked for up to one year.
Along with the administrative penalties of license revocation, the criminal penalties for a DWI conviction in Minnesota can be:
- Fourth-Degree DWI – misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days of jail and a $1,000 fine (for the person's first impaired driving violation within ten years without test refusal or any aggravating factors);
- Third-Degree DWI – a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year of jail and a $3,000 fine (for the person's second impaired driving violation within ten years or first such violation with test refusal or another aggravating factor);
- Second-Degree DWI – also a gross misdemeanor (for the person's third impaired driving violation within ten years or second such violation with test refusal or one other aggravating factor, or first such violation with two aggravating factors); and
- First-Degree DWI – felony, punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment and a $14,000 fine (for the person's fourth impaired driving violation within ten years or anytime following a previous felony DWI or criminal vehicular operation conviction; other aggravating factors are not considered).
Of course these penalties can and will be enhanced if the drunk driving results in an accident, property damage, or even death. Minnesota has special statutes and punishments covering criminal vehicular homicide and injury.
Administrative Penalties and License Suspensions
Minnesota law permits an automatic suspension or revocation of a person's driver's license upon a DWI conviction. Even a first time DWI offense can get your license suspended for 90 days. In some cases, you may also have your license plate impounded or forfeit your vehicle completely if there are aggravating factors involved in your case.
Under certain circumstances, you may be eligible to request a limited license which allows you to drive as long as you have installed an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in your car. Minnesota's IID law requires a person to blow into the device before the vehicle can start. If your BAC is 0.02% or higher, the car won't start. There are also mandatory minimum sentences for repeat DWI convictions under Minnesota's DWI laws. These can include jail sentences from 30 days to an entire year.
Drivers of commercial vehicles are subject to a more stringent standard than normal drivers. The per se BAC limit BAC for commercial drivers is 0.04% or higher, and a conviction can result in a suspension of a commercial driver's license for anywhere from one to ten years.
Getting Legal Help
Minnesota's DWI laws can be complicated, and if you or a loved one has been arrested or charged with a DWI, you should consult with an experienced DWI attorney. An attorney can explain the law, including your rights and responsibilities as a driver.