In the state of Minnesota, DUI and DWI convictions are not taken lightly. However, having a knowledgeable Minnesota DWI defense lawyer will benefit you in several important ways.
First, an experienced defense lawyer can help clients get the best possible outcome when charged with a DUI/DWI. Secondly, a defense should be tailored to each client’s specific circumstances and goals, and a specialized attorney makes that possible.
To help you make the most well-informed decisions in the event of a DUI/DWI case, we’ve compiled a list of the top 20 most frequently asked questions involving DUI/DWI cases in Minnesota.
1. When did drunk driving become a criminal offense in Minnesota? Which vehicles does the Minnesota DWI law apply to?
The first law criminalizing drunk driving in Minnesota was passed in 1911, when Minnesota drivers first began operating vehicles. The Minnesota Legislature passed a law that banned driving while intoxicated (DWI). DWI was considered a misdemeanor in the state of Minnesota, and blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) over 0.15 percent were considered illegal.
Over the years, Minnesota has begun punishing drivers much more harshly than they punished drunk drivers in the past. In 2001, gross misdemeanor and DWI statutes were enacted in Minnesota, and in 2004, the legal limit was reduced to .08 percent from a .10. In 2010, ignition interlock devices were first installed in vehicles.
However, driving under the influence (DUI) does not only involve operating a car, truck, or van. The Minnesota DWI law applies to all motor vehicles. Motor vehicles qualify as the following:
- Boats (excluding canoes)
- Off-road vehicles like ATVs or snowmobiles
- Commercial work vehicles
Generally speaking, riding devices that are not “self-propelled” are not defined as motor vehicles in Minnesota.
2. What should I say if a police officer pulls me over and asks if I’ve been drinking?
Many drunk driving offenses are committed on evenings and weekends. Most police officers pull drivers over based on a variety of symptoms that may provide reason for concern. While speeding is not usually a symptom of being intoxicated that police officers look out for, there are 20 other symptoms that may show that a driver is operating a vehicle will impaired by drugs or alcohol:
- Driving slower than 10 mph below the speed limit
- Driving with headlights off
- Accelerating or decelerating the vehicle rapidly
- Weaving from side to side
- Appearing to be driving drunk
- Turning with a wider radius than normal
- Veering over to the center of the lane marker
- Driving on alternate roads to avoid major highways
- Swerving from side to side
- Following behind other vehicles too closely
- Drifting too far behind other vehicles
- Making illegal turns or turning abruptly
- Stopping during inappropriate times
- Slowly responding to traffic lights
- Braking inappropriately
- Driving with tires on the center lane marker
- Stopping for no reason
- Nearly hitting an object or another vehicle
- Stopping inappropriately and holding up other traffic
- Using signal lights during unsuitable times
If a driver gets pulled over for any of the reasons listed above, and a police officer asks the driver whether they’ve been drinking, the driver is not legally required to answer the officer’s question. Drivers can choose to answer politely by saying they would prefer to speak with an attorney before answering any questions.
3. If I’m asked to complete a field sobriety test, what should I do?
Minnesota has an implied consent law, which means that all drivers automatically consent to giving samples in the event of an arrest for DWI supported by probable cause.
Therefore, refusing to commit to a breath or chemical test may result in criminal consequences. Refusing to give a sample may result in a DWI-Refusal charge. However, an officer must obtain a search warrant for collecting blood or urine samples before being able to charge drivers with a DWI-Refusal.
Also, the officer is required to tell offenders that Minnesota law considers the refusal of these tests to be a crime. Additionally, drivers are not required to consent to a field sobriety test, which involve the walk-and-turn test, one-leg-stand test, finger-to-nose test, and so on.
4. If I’m stopped by an officer and asked to take a sobriety test, do I have the right to obtain a DWI defense attorney?
Minnesota drivers do not have the right to consult with a DWI defense attorney until formally placed under arrest and just prior to being asked to perform the state’s chemical test later at the police station. However, drivers may still request a lawyer immediately after being stopped, asking the officer to note the time of the request on his report. Then, the best thing a defendant can do is provide a proof of insurance, driver’s license, and registration.
5. Can I choose which chemical tests I consent to complete?
Generally, it is the officer that chooses which chemical test to offer the driver. However, in Minnesota, if an individual is offered a blood test they should be given the option of urine and vice versa. It should also be noted that blood tests are generally viewed as more reliable than urine tests for determining blood alcohol concentration.
6. What signs are police officers looking for during the initial detention at the scene?
Police officers are trained to look for symptoms that may suggest driver intoxication. The symptoms that officers generally look for include the following:
- Slurred speech
- Fumbling with wallet
- Failure to comprehend what the officer is asking
- Bloodshot, red, watery, or glassy eyes
- Flushed skin
- Instability on feet or staggering
- Leaning against the vehicle for support
- Arguing with the officer or acting inappropriately
- Inability to divide attention
- Dirty or soiled clothing
7. What does it mean when an officer uses a penlight test on my eyes?
This field sobriety test is called the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which is designed to test the angle of which an eye jerks. If a driver’s eye jerks sooner than when it reaches a 45-degree angle, it may indicate that a driver is intoxicated. However, the test is flawed and is not sufficient evidence in most states.
8. If an officer doesn’t give me a Miranda warning, can my case be dismissed?
In short, the answer is no. An officer is required to give defendants a Miranda warning after an arrest takes place, but it is not required just for pulling someone over who is suspected of driving while intoxicated.
9. Why am I being charged with both a DUI and a DWI?
In Minneapolis, drivers may be charged with driving under the influence and driving while having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or more. While defendants may be charged with both offenses, they can only be punished for one of them. Additionally, drivers being charged with a DWI-Refusal can only be charged with a DUI and obviously not having a BAC of .08 or more.
10. What are the specific penalties for Minnesota DWI convictions?
Penalties vary depending on each specific situation; however, Minnesota drivers may be charged with both criminal penalties in court and administrative penalties from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. A trusted lawyer specializing in DWI defense can help to obtain the best possible outcome for each specific situation.
Criminal penalties in Minnesota for first time offenders vary depending on the BAC of the driver. However, certain circumstances may allow for a driver to be charged with a DWI while under the legal BAC limit. Administration penalties may also apply. Additionally, underage drinking and driving may result in criminal charges.
11. Why did an officer serve me with a notice of suspension and take my driver’s license after completing a breath test?
While this is not entirely fair in many cases, Minnesota’s implied consent law allows for the immediate suspension or confiscation of a driver’s license if a breath test is above the legal limit. However, a Minneapolis DWI defense lawyer can help defendants to get the best possible outcome.
12. Can I represent myself? What can a DWI defense lawyer do that I can’t do for myself?
Offenders certainly can defend themselves in a drunk driving case, but it is not recommended. To ensure that the case gets handled properly, a lawyer specializing in DWI defense is recommended.
In Minnesota, drunk driving is a complex issue and is not taken lightly; however, an experience attorney can help offenders obtain the best possible outcome depending on their situation.
Additionally, an experienced attorney specializing in DWI defense can help defendants with the following:
- An attorney can review your case to look for any potential defects
- They can move to suppress evidence against the defendant
- They can have blood samples analyzed independently
- Attorneys can negotiate for a reduced sentence or a lesser charge
- MN DWI defense attorneys can obtain witnesses for the defendant’s trial
- They can contest suspensions of driver’s licenses
To ensure that offenders receive the guidance they need during a stressful drunk driving case, the help of a Minnesota defense attorney is highly recommended.
13. How can I find a reputable DWI defense attorney?
To find a trustworthy attorney who specializes in DWI defense, it is recommended that defendants choose an attorney with a solid reputation in the area.
When you meet with an attorney for the first time, you should be sure to ask the lawyer the following three things:
- Do they have experience in MN DUI/DWI litigation?
- Does their reputation include going to trial with clients?
- Are the financial terms of representation clear and properly documented?
14. How much does a DWI defense lawyer cost?
The costs of obtaining a lawyer depend on a variety of factors. Of course, a lawyer’s rates vary on their experience, reputation, and geographic location. However, it’s important that defendants find a reputable attorney who can represent them in the best way.
Fees generally vary depending on the following factors:
- Whether the offense is a felony or misdemeanor
- If the client has any prior convictions
- If the attorney will attend any trials or appeals
- If there are any administrative license suspension procedures
- A fixed fee may be charged or the lawyer may request an advance retainer
- If there are any witness fees, services of subpoenas, independent blood analysis, and so on
Regardless, the defendant should make sure that he clearly understands the fees quoted to him. He should ask for a written agreement of the fees and services.
15. What will my penalty for drunk driving be?
In the state of Minnesota, DUI penalties vary depending on several important factors, including the following:
- Previous DWI convictions
- The driver’s blood alcohol concentration level
- The driver’s age
Drivers with a higher BAC will have more severe penalties, as will drivers who have three or more DWI convictions. However, first-time offenders with a BAC lower than 0.16 can expect to be charged with a misdemeanor. Drivers are generally charged with fines of up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail.
Additionally, drivers may receive penalties that include one or more of the following:
- required ignition interlock device
- lengthy license revocation
- limited work permit
If the driver operates a vehicle under the influence and a child is also present, the charge may become a gross misdemeanor. In addition, an offense becomes a gross misdemeanor when the driver has a BAC over 0.15, the driver refuses a blood, urine, or breath test, or if the driver has prior DWI convictions or license revocation within the last ten years.
A reputable lawyer can provide services and guidance related to DWI defense MN, tailored to each specific situation.
16. What does a sentence enhancement refer to?
Certain factors involving each specific case may result in sentence enhancement. Sentence enhancement refers to an increase in punishment if certain facts are present. Factors that may allow for sentence enhancement include:
- Prior convictions for the same or similar offense (typically within the past ten years)
- BAC over .16 percent
- If the violation involves an injury or accident
A sentence enhancement allows a judge to increase an offender’s sentence by a definite term. Prior offenses are the most common reasons for sentence enhancement.
17. What does a Rising BAC Defense refer to?
It takes anywhere from approximately 45 minutes to three hours for alcohol to be absorbed into the human body, meaning that some BAC levels will continue to rise even after a defendant has been pulled over and arrested.
Therefore, expert witnesses and the help of a DWI defense attorney are crucial in drunk driving cases to ensure that the driver’s BAC was taken during the time of driving rather than later, after alcohol has been completely absorbed by the body.
You see, if a driver is given a urine, blood, or breath test several hours after being pulled over, their BAC may be much higher than it was during the time of driving. While the BAC may have been within legal limits during the time of driving, it may have gone up substantially by the time of the test.
18. What does mouth alcohol refer to?
Mouth alcohol refers to the presence of any alcohol in the esophagus or mouth during the time of a breath test. If mouth alcohol is indeed present during the time of a breath test, then the results of the breath test will be much higher, and often falsely high.
For example, mouth alcohol may be present for several reasons:
- From belching
Generally, if any of these actions take place within 20 minutes of taking a breath test, mouth alcohol may be present. Even using a breath freshener (which often contain alcohol) such as Listerine, Bianca dental bridges, or couch syrups may increase mouth alcohol levels. If a driver has blood in their mouth due to an injury, this may also result in falsely high mouth alcohol levels.
19. What MN DWI defenses are available in a DUI case?
There are many defenses that can be used appropriately in a drunk driving case. However, the defense depends on the complexity of the offense. Let’s look at some of the popular defenses that can be used in more detail:
- Prosecution must be able to prove that the defendant was driving the vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a BAC over the legal limit
- The officer must have legal cause to stop, detain, and arrest a driver
- Miranda rights must be given at an appropriate time
- An officer must make offenders aware of any implied consent laws
- The officer’s overall observations and judgements can be questioned
- The breath, urine, or blood tests must be reliable and in compliance with state requirements
- Issues can be addressed further at license revocation hearings
20. What would a Minneapolis DWI defense attorney do if he or she were stopped for a DUI?
Any good DWI defense lawyer understands the importance of obtaining an attorney during a drunk driving case. Here are some of the things that MN DUI defense lawyers would do if they were stopped for driving under the influence:
- Request an attorney and ask the officer to make a note of the time of the request
- Refuse to answer any questions other than providing a name and address
- Remain polite no matter what and hand over all requested documents
- Refuse all field sobriety tests, such as the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (not to be confused with the chemical tests)
- Understanding that a refusal to submit to a breath test at the police department is a crime. Also, refusing to submit to a blood or urine test, when the officer has obtained a search warrant, is also a crime.
- Confide in a reputable DWI defense attorney
How Impaired driving is defined in Minnesota
In the state of Minnesota, the legal blood alcohol concentration limit is .08 percent. However, drivers can still be arrested and charged with drunk driving for a BAC that is less than .08 percent. These specific situations include the following:
- Defendants with a BAC of under .08 percent, depending on other circumstances in the violation
- If driving a commercial vehicle, the legal BAC limit is .04 percent
- Underage drinkers will be charged with underage drinking and driving after consuming any amount of alcohol
Additionally, first offense underage drinkers may face criminal and administrative penalties for driving under the influence, including the following:
- 90 days in jail and/or $1000 in fines
- License revocation from 90 days to one year depending on the blood alcohol concentration.
The use of an ignition interlock device
Ignition interlock devices were first installed in vehicles in 2010. They connect to a driver’s vehicle ignition system, forcing the driver to blow into the device before operating the vehicle. The device will keep the vehicle from starting if a BAC is over the legal limit.
Some defendants have the option to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles during periods of driving suspension. However, there is an installation and monitoring fee that the offender must cover.
Depending on the following circumstances, certain offenders may be required to install ignition interlock devices:
- First time DWI offenders with BAC levels over .16 percent
- Second time DWI offenders
- Offenders with three or more DWI convictions over the past ten years
The amount of time that the device must be installed in a driver’s vehicle depends on the number of DWI convictions a driver has had.
Driver’s license reinstatement
In the state of Minnesota, drunk driving offenders need to reinstate their driver’s licenses after completing court and administrative requirements. Each requirement varies depending on the specific circumstance of the conviction; however, drivers typically need to do the following to reinstate their driver’s licenses:
- Pay $680 to reinstate a driver’s license
- Pass a knowledge test related to DWI/DUI convictions
- Undergo a reputable chemical health assessment program
- Complete a driver’s license application and pay application fees
Drunk driving cases in Minnesota
As we’ve mentioned, drunk drinking is not a situation taken lightly in the state of Minnesota. But fortunately, DWI defense attorneys are available to handle each situation appropriately, helping defendants to receive the best possible outcomes for each specific situation at hand.
In the event of a DUI/DWI case, Minnesota drivers should be sure to look for nationally-ranked lawyers who have the experience, expertise, and track record to handle complex drunk driving cases in Minnesota. Lawyers should have DUI/DWI experience, a proven track record, and they should focus on getting clients the best possible outcome for his or her situation.
Specialized services catered to your needs
No Minnesota drunk driving case is alike, and it’s important that a defense attorney tailors representation to meet the goals and specific circumstances of each individual client. A skilled drunk driving defense attorney can provide defendants with the resources and services they need.