Police in Minnesota arrest thousands of people every year in relation to suspected DWI offenses. However, offenses related to driving while impaired do not always involve alcohol alone.
Operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, whether these are illicit or prescription drugs, can also give rise to an offense. The penalties for drug-related Minnesota DWI charges are the same as those for driving drunk, but there are important differences between the two in terms of testing and probable cause.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Penalties for Drug-Related Minnesota DWI
Per Minnesota Statute Section 169A.20, it is illegal to drive under the influence of a “controlled substance.” It’s also illegal to drive after consuming an “intoxicating substance,” if you are aware of the intoxicating properties of the substance in question. So, as well as illegal drugs, pharmaceutical drugs that have psychoactive effects may also lead to DWI convictions. Even certain household items, such as aerosol sprays, can cause intoxication and potentially lead to DWI charges.
The penalties for driving under the influence of controlled substances are the same for those arising from alcohol-related charges. A first offense usually attracts a 4th-degree DWI charge, a misdemeanor without a mandatory minimum sentence.
Repeat offenses, or other aggravating factors such as the presence of children in the car, increase the degree of the charge. A 1st-degree DWI, the most serious category of the offense, is a felony charge carrying a maximum sentence of 7 years imprisonment and/or a $14,000 fine.
How Police Test for Drugged Driving
You’re likely familiar with the field sobriety tests police officers administer when they suspect drivers of committing intoxicated driving offenses; the walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. When an officer pulls you over on suspicion of driving while impaired, these tests will likely be their first priority.
Some Minnesota police officers also have specific training in drug evaluation and classification (DEC). This training sets out a standardized procedure through which officers can assess whether a suspect has consumed a specific substance. An officer who has this training is called a drug recognition evaluator (DRE).
In order to subject you to intoxication tests, an officer must first have reasonable suspicion that a crime has taken place. This will most often be some issue with your driving, such as erratic movement or a traffic violation. If an officer deems that you have failed a sobriety test, they have established probable cause and can arrest you on a DWI charge.
Is Marijuana the Same as Other Drugs When It Comes to DWI?
Minnesota law states that you are guilty of a DWI offense if you drive with any amount of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance in your system, or a metabolite of any of these substances. These categories, which the federal government set out, include drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana. Minnesota law sets out an exception in the case of marijuana, though, so the same strict rule does not apply in relation to the drug.
However, that doesn’t mean driving under the influence of marijuana is legal. If you knowingly ingest it and it impairs your driving, you may still be guilty of an offense.
A breathalyzer test can detect the presence of alcohol on your breath, but there is no equivalent roadside test for marijuana at the moment. Right now, police rely on the subjective findings of officers with DRE training to assess whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana.
Getting the Right Legal Help With Your Drug-Related Minnesota DWI
Whether you pick up a Minnesota DWI charge on suspicion of the consumption of alcohol or a different intoxicating substance, or a combination, it’s always a difficult process. To give yourself the best chance of escaping unnecessarily severe punishment, you need to get an experienced Minnesota DWI lawyer in your corner.
Contact us today to schedule a free initial case review.