Under Minnesota criminal law, a felony is defined as any crime where incarceration of over one year may be imposed.
Before the law on felony DWIs was enacted in Minnesota legislature in 2001, repeat DWI convictions and incidents of alcohol-related loss of license resulted in nothing more than a gross misdemeanor. This means that in the past, repeat offenders did not have to worry about spending more than 365 days behind bars, regardless of how many DWI convictions they had.
Ever since felony DWI became a chargeable offense in the state, however, repeat DWI offenders that face first-degree DWI or a felony DWI charges are subject to at least three years imprisonment.
To be charged with a felony DWI, there must first be the presence of three qualified impaired driving incidents within the last ten years, a former felony DWI conviction at any point in the offender’s past, or a former felony criminal vehicular operation or conviction for vehicular homicide resulting from being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any other substance.
Under the law, a qualified prior impaired driving incident includes operating a motor vehicle while impaired, operating an aircraft while impaired, or even a boat, ATV, or snowmobile. It also includes criminal vehicular operation that is alcohol or controlled substance related. Prior impaired driving incidents can also include alcohol related license cancellations, revocations, and disqualifications. It does not matter if the convictions occurred in Minnesota or any other state.
Apart from facing driver’s license cancellation and vehicle forfeiture, an individual convicted with a Minnesota felony DWI may have to face a hefty $14,000 fine, imprisonment of anywhere from three to seven years, or both a fine and time behind bars.
The Minnesota sentencing guidelines determine the sentence for a felony conviction in the state after taking into account the convicted individual’s criminal history and the seriousness of the offense. These guidelines advise a sentence respectively of 36, 42, and 48 months for a felony DWI conviction for individuals with zero, one, or two criminal history points. For those with prior criminal history points or prior felony DWI convictions, these advisable sentences would include a “presumptive” or mandatory prison time. The judges, however, have discretion to reduce sentencing options to less than the required minimums, but would have to find a basis for downward departure, if mandatory prison is required.
An individual who is sentenced to imprisonment for felony DWI is not entitled to early release unless he or she has completed a chemical dependency treatment program while incarcerated.
Once a felony DWI offender is released from prison, the court must also order that he or she should be placed on five-year conditional release. This includes an intensive probation program for repeat offenders. If the offender does not comply with the release conditions, then the commissioner may revoke it and return the individual to prison.