Felony DWI in Minnesota

Read about the consequences of a felony DWI in Minnesota.

Driving while impaired (DWI), sometimes called “DUI,” results in criminal and administrative penalties. Generally, the severity of these penalties increases when the offender has prior DWI convictions. In Minnesota, a “felony DWI” (also called “first-degree DWI”) carries the most serious consequences. This article discusses some of the consequences for felony DWI.

(Also, read about the penalties for a first, second, third, and underage DWI in Minnesota.) 

Felony DWI Defined

Minnesota defines DWI as driving, operating, or being in physical control of a motor vehicle while:

  • under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance that affects the body and substantially impairs driving abilities
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater (a “per se” DWI), or
  • having any amount of a Schedule I or II drug, except marijuana, in the body (also a per se DWI).

Upon a lawful arrest for DWI, Minnesota law also makes it a crime to refuse to take a breath alcohol test. This offense is called an implied consent or test refusal crime and is treated like a DWI conviction.

A DWI becomes a felony-level offense if the motorist has:

  • three prior DWIs that occurred within the past ten years
  • a prior felony DWI, or
  • a prior felony vehicular homicide or vehicular injury conviction that involved alcohol or drugs.

(Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 169A.20, 169A.24, 169A.51, 609.2112-609.2114 (2016); Johnson v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 887 N.W.2d 281 (2016).)

Arrest and Custody

A person who’s arrested for a felony DWI must stay in jail until the first court date. It’s typically not until then that the judge sets bail and specifies conditions of release. Conditions of release will likely include:

  • abstaining from alcohol and drugs
  • random alcohol breath testing or urine analysis
  • weekly reporting to a probation agent, and
  • vehicle plate impoundment.

(Minn. Stat. Ann. § 169A.44 (2016).)

Administrative Penalties

“Administrative penalties”—which are imposed by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety—are meant to provide a swift consequence. These penalties can be imposed upon or soon after a DWI arrest and may apply even if the offender is never convicted of a DWI in criminal court.

For a felony DWI, administrative penalties include:

  • driver’s license cancelation for four to six years
  • plate impoundment, and
  • possible vehicle forfeiture.

License cancelation. Offenders who have their driver’s license canceled (as opposed to revoked for first and second offenses), must install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) on their vehicles. IIDs are required not only to drive during the cancelation period, but also to reinstate driving privileges once the cancelation period is done.

Plate impoundment. Plate impoundment refers to the removal and surrender of a vehicle’s license plates. The plate impoundment order applies to all vehicles registered in the offender’s name, whether alone or jointly. To drive those vehicle(s) again, the offender must apply for special registration plates—commonly known as “whiskey plates.”

Forfeiture. At the time of arrest for a felony DWI, the police officer may seize the offender’s vehicle. Generally, a prosecutor has 60 days to send the offender notice of intent to forfeit the vehicle. If the offender doesn’t challenge or succeed in challenging the forfeiture, the arresting agency may keep the vehicle for its own use or sell the vehicle and keep the proceeds.

(Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 169A.52, 169A.54, 169A.60, 169A.63 (2016).)

Criminal Penalties

“Criminal penalties” are imposed by a criminal court following a DWI conviction. For a nonfelony DWI, the maximum term of imprisonment is one year, which is served in the county jail. Felony DWIs, in contrast, carry the possibility of three to seven years in state prison. A felony offender is also looking at up to $14,000 in fines.

Prison sentences. Felony offenders who receive prison sentences are not eligible for early release until successfully completing chemical dependency treatment. After release from prison, the offender will be on “conditional release” for five years. The commissioner of corrections sets the terms of conditional release, which may include intensive probation. Failing to comply with conditional release terms can land the offender back in prison.

Stayed sentences. Technically, the minimum prison sentence for a felony DWI is three years. But the court has the option to “stay” the prison sentence and instead impose a jail sentence or intensive probation. If the court chooses to do so, the offender must—as part of the sentence—complete chemical dependency treatment and long-term alcohol monitoring. If the offender violates any probation conditions, the court can revoke the stay and send the offender to prison.

(Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 169A.24, 169A.275, 169A.276, 169A.277, 169A.284, 169A.40, 169A.44, 169A.70 (2016).)

Costs of a DWI

The costs of criminal and administrative penalties are considerable, and include:

  • criminal fines and surcharges
  • chemical dependency assessment fees and surcharges
  • treatment and monitoring costs, and
  • in some cases, bail and penalty assessments.

To regain driving privileges, the offender must pay:

  • a driver’s license examination fee
  • DWI reinstatement fee and surcharge (totaling $680),
  • plate impoundment fees, and
  • the costs of an IID for at least four years.

(Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 169A.25, 169A.26, 169A.284, 169A.44, 169A.60, 171.29, 171.306, 357.021 (2016).)

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL OR PRISON?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail or prison sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Getting Legal Help

Minnesota DWI law is complex, and facts of every case are different. If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence, talk to an experienced DWI attorney in your area. A qualified DWI lawyer can tell you how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on the best course of action.

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