Drivers in Minnesota have known that driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than .08 but less than .20 constitutes a misdemeanor DWI. Individual drivers found guilty of this crime could face up to 90 days in jail and/or pay a fine up to $1,000. On the other hand, those who were found to have a BAC of .20 or higher are charged with a gross misdemeanor and are subject to tougher penalties.
However, all that changes starting in August of this year as the Minnesota Legislature has lowered the threshold. A DWI now involving a BAC of .16 or higher will also be charged as a gross misdemeanor level offense.
The maximum sentence for a gross misdemeanor includes one year in jail, a fine of $3,000, or both. With this change in the law, if an individual has a BAC of .16 or more and has a prior DWI conviction or a prior alcohol related driver’s license revocation within ten years, his or her motor vehicle may also be forfeited and his bail requirements will be stiffer – a mandatory amount of $12,000. In addition, as existed before, a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of .16 or more will continue to face a lengthier driver’s license revocation period than had he or she tested a .15 or less.
Supporters of the legislation say it will save lives, as it is intended to reduce incidences of alcohol related crashes and a decrease in repeat DWI offenders. But some lawyers are concerned about the lower threshold’s consequences for offenders, reported the Star Tribune.
Some MN DWI defense attorneys say that people with otherwise clean records may easily graze the new gross misdemeanor threshold just because they had, for instance, a few drinks at a wedding. Automatically exposing these people to severe sanctions would not seem right.
Aside from that, lawyers cite 2013 data that first-time DWI offenders have an average BAC of .14, meaning that people are very close to the new limit. They also note that the legislation was pushed through without staff analysis or even a fiscal impact analysis.
The Star Tribune did its own independent analysis based on average numbers from the last few years. From the past three years alone, Minnesota had an average of 5,024 people charged with drunk-driving with BAC ranging from .16 to .19.
The Tribune found that the lowered threshold could result in almost 3,000 additional gross misdemeanor DWI cases per year – an increase of 71 percent.
For Minnesotan drivers, that means a much larger chance to face much harsher penalties. A few friendly drinks may now mean a much greater fine and the potential for a lengthier jail sentence, plus higher related expenses.
While various defense lawyers may agree that the goals of the legislation are laudable, it can also be argued that the lower threshold is “too punitive” for drivers in Minnesota. A simple question to ask is whether driving with a motor vehicle at a BAC of .16 is really any more egregious than operating the vehicle at a .15 justifying the potential for more punitive consequences?
If you have been charged with a DWI in the state of Minnesota then contact us today to speak with an experienced Minnesota DWI Defense Attorney.