By now, everyone has heard of the Otter Tail County man who was facing his 28th DWI. The Minnesota man has a long history with law enforcement that includes 27 prior DWIs. He didn’t help his case when—after being pulled over by police—he refused to perform field sobriety tests and told the officer, “I am way over, take me to jail.” The most perplexing part of this case is why he still had a valid driver’s license especially since he has spent more than 11 years behind bars because of DWI convictions and parole/probation violations.
Apparently, Rep. Dario Anselmo (R-Edina) is equally shocked. So much so, in fact, that Anselmo is looking to introduce a bill next session that after five DWIs, a person would have his/her license permanently revoked.
Under current law, Minnesota does not permanently revoke anyone’s driver’s license as long as s/he follows procedure to reinstate it following suspension. Even repeat offenders—like the case mentioned above—with four or more prior DWIs can have their licenses reinstated after six years.
Other states such as New York and Oregon have laws that permanently revoke serial drunk drivers for life.
Opponents argue that with restricted licenses, law enforcement can, at least, track offenders; however, there’s no safeguard to prevent someone with a revoked license from driving if s/he really wants to. While this is, indeed, a valid and legitimate concern, Anselmo echoes many others’ beliefs that driving is a privilege, not a right, and Bettcher should have been stopped long ago.
Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) also plans to address the state’s DWI statutes during the next legislative session that begins on 20 February 2018. Unlike Anselmo, however, Zerwas doesn’t have any specifics on his direction.
The evolution of Minnesota’s DWI laws
The Minnesota legislature first criminalized drunk driving in 1911 as a misdemeanor. In the 106 years since, DWI laws have undergone considerable evolution.
Beginning in 1917, a 0.15 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) threshold was set as evidence of being under the influence.
Fast forward half a century to 1961 when civil sanctions for DWI implied consent started.
Then, in 1971, the BAC threshold for administrative driver’s license sanctions was set at 0.10. In fact, Minnesota was the first state to attach licensure penalties to drunk driving.
In 1988, the state began license plate impoundment, and the following year, refusal to submit to a breath test became a criminal offense.
In 1993, Minnesota added a child endangerment enhancement to existing DWI law and also enacted the “Not a Drop” law that prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from driving with any concentration of alcohol in his/her system.
In 2001, felony-level sanctions were added, and in 2004, the per se BAC threshold was lowered to 0.08. The ignition interlock provision was added in 2010, and in 2015, the legislature reduced its gross misdemeanor BAC threshold for first-time offenders from 0.20 to 0.16.
According to Minnesota State Patrol Sergeant Troy Christianson, the steady increase in stricter DWI laws are contributing to the decline in alcohol-related deaths. Between 2010 and 2014, drunk-driving fatalities decreased by 25 percent.
The push for a permanent ban
At the present time, one in every seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI, and nearly 600 of them have four prior convictions. In 2015, police arrested 25,000 drunk drivers—that’s approximately 69 each day. Further, in 2015, drunk driving resulted in 95 fatalities and over 2,000 injuries. The average BAC for drunk drivers is 0.15, and the average BAC for drunk drivers who are involved in a fatal accident is 0.19.
Every year it seems the Minnesota Legislature is reviewing some new bill to increase the consequences for drunk driving. If you or a loved one has been charged with a DWI, it is extremely important to choose the right Dwi attorney to fight your charge to try to avoid a conviction.