Drunk Driving & DWI Laws
Drunk driving is taken even more seriously than underage drinking and social host violations. Think more than twice before driving drunk.
Being stopped: A police officer may stop you if he/she has reasonable grounds. Reasonable grounds may include violation of any traffic law, a mechanical defect in your vehicle, or questionable driving conduct. If, after the stop, the officer believes you have been drinking or are under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance (e.g., smells alcohol or drugs) or if you are unable to perform various sobriety tests or fail a preliminary breath test, the officer will arrest you for driving under the influence.
The arrest: If you are arrested for DWI, you will be taken to the station for testing. Prior to testing, the police officer must inform you of your rights and grant you the opportunity to speak with a lawyer. The officer will ask you to submit to a chemical test to determine the amount of alcohol that is in your system. Minnesota law requires that you submit to the test. Test refusal is a separate crime, and your privileges to drive will be revoked for one year if you refuse to take the chemical test. Refusing to take the test may be a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony, depending upon whether you have any prior DWI incidents. Generally, arrestees are released in a few hours after either posting a cash bond or signing a promise to appear on the court date. In some instances, arrestees may be kept in custody or taken to a detox center.
If you are a first-time offender and the results of your test are .08 percent or greater, your privilege to drive will be immediately revoked for a period of 30 to 90 days. If the test results are between .05 and .08, you may still be charged with DWI if the police believe it has impaired your driving. If the results of your test are in excess of .20 percent or you have prior alcohol-related driving offenses, you will be charged with a more serious crime.
If you are underage, there is zero tolerance:If you are under the age of 21, you cannot consume any alcohol and drive (zero tolerance). A violation will result in a criminal charge and the loss of your driving privileges for 30 days on a first offense and 180 days for a multiple offender.
Criminal procedure: If you are ticketed for DWI, you will be given a time and date at which to appear in court. This is a serious offense, and you should request a lawyer. This initial appearance is called an arraignment. At the arraignment, you will be advised of the charge against you and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
If you enter a guilty plea at arraignment, your case will be handled on that day. If you enter a not guilty plea, your matter will be go to a pretrial conference. The pretrial conference is a time when your lawyer and the city attorney will meet to discuss the case and see if a possible plea bargain can be arranged. The pretrial conference is generally held within a few weeks of the arraignment. It also is conducted in the courthouse of the county in which you have been arrested. If the case is not settled through plea bargaining, the matter goes to trial.
Penalties and sentencing:If you plead or are found guilty of DWI or a lesser offense, you are guilty of a misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine or both. If you have had more than one DWI in the past ten years or had a blood alcohol test reading of point .20 or greater, you may be charged with a gross misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and fine of up to $3,000. If you are stopped and refuse a blood alcohol test you may be charged with a gross misdemeanor. The amount of jail time and fine is left to the discretion of the court. Many judges will impose a form of community service together with a fine for a first offense. You may be able to perform community service to work off part or all of your fine or in lieu of jail time.
Alcohol Assessments: If you plead guilty or are found guilty of a DWI or alcohol-related offense, Minnesota law requires that you go through a PSI (pre-sentence investigation). This assessment is performed by an individual within the Department of Probation. They will interview you and determine whether or not you have an alcohol problem. The probation officer will then make recommendations to the judge regarding further treatment, educational programming, and sentencing. The court will require you to pay a substantial fee for the PSI.
Expect problems with your insurance: If you are convicted of a DWI, your car insurance rates will increase substantially. The conviction will affect your rates for many years to come. In addition to higher rates, there is a strong possibility that your insurance will be canceled altogether, and you will be required to obtain risk insurance from another agency or through the state.
Contact us for help:
DWIs are serious charges with serious ramifications and consequences. If you are charged with a DWI, you should contact University Student Legal Service.
If you are not eligible to use University Student Legal Service, you should strongly consider hiring a private, attorney or seeing if you are eligible for a court appointed lawyer or public defender.