The Various Degrees of Minnesota DWI Charges

Every state has its own laws regarding impaired driving, and there are often significant differences in the statutes and the penalties imposed. For example, Minnesota maintains an intensive supervised release (ISR) program with stringent demands on those convicted of felony DWI.

Initial decisions by prosecutors regarding DWI charges may significantly impact outcomes and the ultimate effect on the future of the accused.

Degrees of Minnesota DWI Charges

Minnesota state law defines four degrees of DWI criminal offenses. Three are misdemeanors and one is a felony:

  • Fourth Degree DWI – a misdemeanor
  • Third Degree DWI – a gross misdemeanor
  • Second Degree DWI – a gross misdemeanor
  • First Degree DWI – a felony

Misdemeanor fourth degree DWI is the lowest possible charge. State law defines both minimum and maximum penalties for each offense.

Maximum Penalties

Although only a few of those convicted of DWI will receive the maximum sanctions, they do merit attention:

  • Fourth Degree DWI – 90 days in jail, $1000 fine and two years probation
  • Third Degree DWI – 365 days in jail, $3,000 fine and six years probation
  • Second Degree DWI – same maximums as third degree DWI
  • First Degree DWI – Seven years in prison, $14,000 fine, conditional release of up to five years following probation

 Mandatory Minimum Penalties

  • Fourth Degree DWI – No minimum sentence. Penalties imposed by judges vary from county to county.
  • Third Degree DWI – Minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, with some exceptions.
  • Second Degree DWI – Minimum sentence of 90 days in jail, with some exceptions. A period of intensive supervision is also required.
  • First Degree DWI – If a convicted individual does not receive a prison sentence, a jail term of 180 to 365 days is typically required. A period of intensive supervision is also required.

What is “Intensive Supervision”?

In Minnesota, ISR includes a variety of elements, including house arrest, electronic monitoring (with or without GPS), random drug and alcohol testing, unannounced agent visits at home and/or work, payment of supervision fees, victim restitution and 40 hours per week of work/education. Some offenders must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

First degree DWI offenders sentenced to ISR proceed through four phases. Phase I involves at least four face-to-face agent contacts every week., house arrest and electronic monitoring. In Phase II and Phase III, face-to-face contacts and house arrest requirements are progressively modified. However, two face-to-face contacts are still required in the second phase, and one such weekly contact must occur in the third phase.

Phase IV, the final phase, requires two agent contacts every month. The ISR program includes zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use and strict rules for agent visits. Those that do not remain fully compliant may face a return to prison.

Aggravating Factors

How do prosecutors determine what level to charge the accused with? A number of “aggravating factors” will impact the nature of the charges. There are four aggravating factors that prosecutors typically look for:

  • A BAC of .20 or higher
  • Refusal of a request by law enforcement to submit to a breath, blood or urine testing
  • Prior DWI offenses and alcohol-related license revocations in the ten years immediately preceding the date of arrest
  • Presence of one or more passengers 15-years-of-age or younger

Aggravating Circumstances

When the alleged DWI offense results in injury or death to one or more other individuals, additional charges are possible, including criminal vehicular homicide and/or criminal vehicular operation.

Prosecutors may evaluate aggravating factors and circumstances in various ways. Knowledge of previous cases and how they were handled may benefit a person accused of driving while intoxicated.

Our firm provides DWI defense to clients throughout the Twin Cities metro area. We work diligently to preserve the full legal rights of our clients. To learn more about our legal services, please contact us.