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Minnesota DWI Laws

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) poses a significant danger to public safety. It's a dangerous and preventable crime. It's also one that needs multiple levels of consideration. While some make a poor choice to drink and drive, others may suffer from substance abuse disorders. Managing these charges often requires various levels of care, including criminal sanctions, assessment, and treatment.

Minnesota sees over 20,000 arrests for drugged or drunk driving each year. One-third of traffic fatalities involved impaired drivers. Minnesota has strengthened its DUI laws to deter intoxicated driving offenses.

Below is an overview of Minnesota's DWI laws and potential consequences.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits and Implied Consent
"Per Se" BAC Limit 0.08%
Zero Tolerance (Underage) BAC Limit 0.00%
Enhanced Penalty (Aggravated) BAC Limit 0.16%
Implied Consent to Submit to BAC Test? Yes
Select Penalties
Minimum License Suspension or Revocation (1st, 2nd, 3rd offense) 90 days / 1 year / Indefinite
Mandatory Alcohol Education, or Assessment and Treatment Assessment and Treatment
Vehicle Confiscation Possible? Yes
Ignition Interlock Device Possible? Yes

Disclaimer: State laws can change through legislative, judicial, or other means. While FindLaw works hard to ensure the accuracy of its legal resources, it's a good idea to thoroughly research the law or check with an attorney to ensure you have the most recent information.

Minnesota's Driving While Intoxicated Laws

Commonly called driving under the influence or DUI, Minnesota labels the crime as driving while intoxicated or DWI. You may see DUI and DWI used interchangeably. In Minnesota, they refer to the same offense.

Minnesota's DWI law prohibits anyone from driving, operating, or being in physical control of a motor vehicle when:

  • Under the influence of alcohol
  • Under the influence of a controlled substance or its metabolites
  • Under the influence of a known intoxicant
  • Under the influence of cannabis/marijuana, cannabis products, or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Under the influence of a combination of these listed substances
  • Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or 0.04% if operating a commercial vehicle

Motor vehicles include cars or trucks, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, or watercraft.

Physical Control of a Vehicle

The court defines being "in control" broadly. You don't have to be in motion to receive a DWI charge. Multiple situations can land you in jail for a DWI.

You are in physical control if you are in the vehicle, have the keys, or even sleep in the back seat but have the keys or the car is running. You can also be in control if you are a passenger and take hold of the steering wheel.

Per Se Offense

Most of us are familiar with the idea of a legal BAC limit. In Minnesota, this legal limit is 0.08% if you are over 21. A "per se DWI" sets a legal limit for intoxicants, usually alcohol, but may include cannabis. A per se DWI is one that "stands alone," meaning law enforcement only needs evidence that your BAC is at or above 0.08% and that you were driving, operating, or otherwise in control of a vehicle to arrest and prosecute you.

Law enforcement doesn't need to prove that there is actual impairment and that you cannot drive safely. There is a legal presumption that a BAC of 0.08% represents an unsafe level of intoxication. This is enough evidence for a conviction.

You can face prosecution if your alcohol level is below the legal limit or you test positive for intoxicants. However, law enforcement needs additional evidence that you cannot drive safely. This can include failing field sobriety tests, driving erratically, slurring your words, and a smell of alcohol on your breath.

Implied Consent for Chemical Tests

Driving is a privilege. When you drive in Minnesota, you are agreeing to submit to chemical tests if a police officer suspects you're impaired. This is an implied consent law.

Chemical tests look for controlled substances and intoxicants and measure your alcohol level. They may include breath, blood, or urine analysis.

Understanding the process before an officer can request chemical tests under the implied consent law is essential. When a police officer stops you on suspicion of driving intoxicated, they will ask you to submit to a preliminary breath test. This is a hand-held breath testing device or Breathalyzer.

The police officer may then ask you to perform field sobriety tests (FST). The preliminary breath test is not accepted as evidence against you in court. The results of the breath test and FSTs can give the officer probable cause to arrest you. You may refuse these tests without consequences, but refusing will not prevent your arrest.

After your arrest, the police officer can ask you to take an evidentiary breath test or get a warrant for a blood or urine test. As the officer will explain, you should cooperate with these chemical tests under the implied consent law. You have a right to consult an attorney before the tests, but the officer will only wait a reasonable amount of time for you to make contact. You can't delay the test in hopes of lowering your BAC.

You may refuse these tests, but there are serious consequences. It is a separate crime in Minnesota to refuse chemical tests. If this is your first refusal, your license suspension is for one year. A second refusal will suspend your driving privileges for two years. You have seven days before the suspension takes effect.

The officer may get another warrant to compel your cooperation.

DWI Penalties

DWI penalties fall into two categories: criminal and administrative. Administrative penalties can be immediately imposed following your arrest. Criminal penalties will accrue if convicted of a DWI.

Criminal Penalties

The court system assigns your criminal penalties. If convicted of a DWI, your sentence will depend on the severity of your charge and if any aggravating factors are present.

Everyone convicted of a DWI must undergo a chemical use assessment before sentencing. A judge may include any treatment recommendations in the assessment report as part of your sentence.

Degree of Offense


Jail Time


Factors Determining Offense Level

Fourth Degree


90 Days


No aggravating factors

Third Degree

Gross misdemeanor

Up to one year


One aggravating factor or chemical test refusal

Second Degree

Gross misdemeanor

Up to one year


Two or more aggravating factors or one and test refusal

First Degree


Up to seven years


Three or more prior offenses or prior felony DWI


There are mandatory minimum jail times for multiple DWI offenders.

Number of prior offenses within 10 years

Mandatory minimum jail time

Second Offense

30 days, or 48 hours with community service

Third Offense

90 days, with 30 days served consecutively

Fourth Offense

180 days, with 30 days served consecutively


Aggravating Factors

Aggravating factors will increase your penalties after arrest and sentencing if you're convicted. Aggravating factors include:

  • Prior DWI offense within the last 10 years
  • Having a BAC of 0.16% or more
  • Having a child passenger aged 16 or younger, so long as you are three years older
  • DWI while your driver's license is under suspension, revocation, or cancellation

Administrative Penalties

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety manages administrative penalties. These include your driver's license revocation, limited licenses, and ignition interlock device requirements.

Three main penalties can impact your ability to drive legally. Under certain circumstances, after your arrest, you may confront the following penalties:

License Plate Impoundment

If your DWI has aggravating factors, the state will physically seize your license plates or make you surrender them. This applies to any vehicle you own or operate, whether alone or jointly.

If your BAC is over 0.16% and this is your first offense, you will be subject to license plate impoundment.

Vehicle Forfeiture

Vehicle forfeiture means law enforcement takes possession of the vehicle involved in your DWI. Your vehicle may be subject to complete forfeiture if used in certain designated offenses, such as prior DWIs and prior license suspensions. This includes a third DWI conviction within 10 years or earning a DWI on a canceled driver's license. You have 30 days to challenge the forfeiture.

Driver's License Suspension or Revocation

A driver's license will be automatically suspended upon a DWI arrest. You will have a seven-day temporary license to drive before the suspension goes into effect. The length of your license revocation period depends on the seriousness of your offense. These factors include:

  • Number of prior DWIs
  • Aggravating factors
  • Chemical test refusal

For a first-time offender with no aggravating factors, your suspension period will be 90 days. You may be eligible for a limited license using an ignition interlock device.

A first offense with aggravating factors, a second offense, or a chemical test refusal will see your license suspended for at least one year.

A third offense within 10 years will cancel your driver's license.

Ignition Interlock Device and Limited Licenses

After serving a period of your suspension, you may be eligible for a limited license. Your limited license may not have limitations for a first offense with no aggravating factors. However, if your DWI did involve aggravating factors, or it was your second DWI within 10 years, the license limits what times you can drive and to where you can drive.

All limited licenses require the use of an ignition interlock device. An ignition interlock device (IID) is a small breath-testing appliance installed into your vehicle's ignition. You must provide a breath sample when you wish to drive. If the IID detects any amount of alcohol in your sample, your vehicle will not start.

The IID will prompt you to repeat the breath test throughout your drive. The device has a camera that will video record or take pictures of each test to ensure you are the one using the device.

Zero Tolerance for Underage DWI

Minnesota has a zero-tolerance law for underage impaired driving. Any detectable amount of alcohol, anything above 0.0%, will earn you a DWI charge. If you are under 18, this is a major traffic violation heard in juvenile court. If you are 18 to 20, it is a misdemeanor charge.

If your BAC is 0.08% or more, or you have controlled substances or intoxicants in your system, you will face an adult charge and penalties.

For a first offense, your license suspension is for 90 days. If you don't have a driver's license, a DWI conviction will significantly restrict your ability to get one.

Minnesota DWI Resources

  • Minnesota DWI Statute: Driving While Impaired (Mn. Stat. §§169A.20 et seq)
  • Impaired Driving LawsOverview of Minnesota's DWI laws and penalties (Minn. Office of Traffic Safety)
  • Minnesota Ignition Interlock Device Program: Information about the IID program, approved installers, and application forms (Minn. Driver and Vehicle Services)
  • DWI EZ Guide [PDF]: Handy pamphlet summarizing Minnesota's DWI laws, including BAC test refusal penalties (Minn. Dept. Public Safety)
  • Underage Drinking: Statistics and information about the dangers of underage drinking (Minn. Office of Traffic Safety)

Contact a Minnesota DWI Attorney for Help With Your Case

The penalties associated with a DWI conviction can be serious. The impact can follow you for years. You should seek legal assistance if you or someone you know is facing a DWI. Only an attorney can give you legal advice about your case. Get started today by contacting a Minnesota DWI defense attorney near you.

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