Change in MN DWI laws, signals stiffer penalties

Summer in Minnesota is hard to beat as winter-weary residents emerge from their homes to gather with family and friends and head out to enjoy barbeques, festivals and time at the cabin and lake. For many Minnesota residents, these summer traditions are often enjoyed while having an alcoholic beverage or two.

Law enforcement officials in Minnesota take drunk driving very seriously, a fact that is reflected in the state's drunk driving arrest and conviction rates as one in "seven licensed Minnesota drivers has at least one DWI." What's more, at 40 percent, the state "has the highest DWI recidivism rate" in the country. A soon-to-be enacted law will likely serve to increase these already staggering statistics.

Currently drivers in the state who are considered to be seriously impaired and charged with a gross misdemeanor must register a blood-alcohol concentration level of .2. Come August, that BAC threshold will be reduced to .16 which, according to a Star Tribune analysis, will result in more than a 70 percent increase in the number of drivers who are subject to gross misdemeanor DWI charges.

For those drivers impacted, they will also be subject to a substantial increase in fees and penalties. Currently a driver who registers a BAC level between a .16 and .19 may be sentenced to spend up to 90 days in jail and pay up to $1,000 in fines. When the new law goes into effect, these same BAC levels will trigger fines of up to $3,000, up to one year in jail and a 12-month driver's license revocation.

Based on data from the past three years, state officials estimate that, annually, an average of 5,024 drivers will be affected by the law change, 60 percent of whom will be first-time offenders. In addition to the increased fines and penalties associated with a first gross misdemeanor DWI charge, drivers who are arrested for subsequent DWIs will also face much stiffer penalties.

Individuals who are facing DWI charges in Minnesota would be wise to contact an attorney. A criminal defense attorney can provide valuable legal advice and defend against DWI charges.

Source: Star Tribune, "Minnesota stiffens penalties for mid-level DWIs," Dan Browning, June 14, 2015

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