When a police officer arrests you on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they set a chain of events in motion that may culminate in a felony or misdemeanor conviction. There are several steps in the Minnesota DWI process and understanding them will help you to remain composed and give yourself the best possible chance of emerging with an acquittal.
The Initial Arrest and Charges
The process typically begins with a traffic stop. A law enforcement officer must have reasonable suspicion either that you’re committing a crime or have just committed one in order to legally pull you over.
Minnesota police typically use field sobriety tests to assess whether a road user is driving while impaired. They also use preliminary breath testing in some cases. If you fail a roadside test, you will likely be arrested and taken to the police station, where formal charges will be filed against you.
First Court Appearance: Bail, Arraignment, and Pleading
Once you’re in custody, it’s up to the court to decide when you’ll be released. Relevant considerations here include any criminal history you have, the seriousness of your current suspected offense, and whether you’ve failed to appear in court previously.
First-time offenders, without any aggravating factors (i.e. BAC .16 or more or prior DWI’s within 10 years) present in their case, usually get released without bail. If bail is required, the size of the bond the court requires will depend on the factors listed above. Courts cannot refuse to allow release on bail for new DWI charges.
Your first court hearing is also known as your arraignment, and it involves submitting a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, the court will skip the trial and progress straight to your sentencing hearing. If you hire a lawyer, you may be allowed not to attend this hearing.
The Administrative Process
While the criminal process is ongoing, the State of Minnesota also initiates an administrative process that can result in the revocation of your driver’s license. You may challenge this revocation via either judicial or administrative review; most successful challenges come from judicial reviews. You have 60 days from the date on which you receive notice of revocation to file for judicial review.
Following the arraignment, the pre-trial phase begins. Both the defense and prosecution use this time to collect evidence and interview witnesses. Motions can be filed to dismiss evidence at this stage, and plea deals may be negotiated.
If no plea agreement is reached, the case proceeds to trial. During the trial, both the prosecution and the defense will present their cases. Witnesses may be called and evidence will be presented. While you will get the opportunity to speak in your defense, you are not obliged to do so, and opting not to testify will not hurt your case.
The outcome rests in the hands of the judge or jury. Juries comprise 6 people for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses and 12 for felonies.
Sentencing and Penalties
If you’re convicted, the court will schedule a sentencing hearing where penalties such as fines, jail time, and loss of driving privileges will be determined.
DWI charges in Minnesota fall into the following categories:
- Fourth-degree DWI (a misdemeanor).
- Third-degree DWI (a gross misdemeanor).
- Second-degree DWI (a gross misdemeanor).
- First-degree DWI (a felony).
Post-Conviction and Appeals
A conviction isn’t necessarily the end of the road. You will have the right to appeal the verdict, and there may be other avenues to explore, like requesting a sentence reduction or applying for a limited driver’s license.
Contact a Lawyer to Help You Through the Minnesota DWI Process
A skilled Minnesota DWI attorney can be your most valuable resource when it comes to navigating the complexities of a drunk driving charge. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation about your case.