Court: DWI charge is more serious than underage drinking and driving

Minnesota law prohibits driving while impaired for all drivers. Most Minnesotans understand that the state presumes impairment if a blood, breath or urine test reveals an alcohol level of 0.08 percent or greater. Generally, prosecutors can seek DWI charges based upon other evidence of impairment, such as an arresting officer’s observations or testimony from other witnesses that the state believes shows impairment.

A recent unpublished decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that a 17-year-old who took her DWI charges to trial should have had the DWI conviction entered instead of the underage drinking and driving conviction. The trial court had ruled that the underage drinking and driving charge better represented the facts underlying the jury verdicts, but the appellate court ruled that the defendant should have been adjudicated on the more serious misdemeanor conviction.

The case involves a 17-year-old driver who was arrested on suspicion of DWI in Sherburne County July 31, 2010. Police had claimed that later alcohol chemical tests showed that the young woman had an alcohol level reading of 0.08 percent, right at the state legal limit. She was charged with a variety of offenses including two counts of fourth degree DWI. Later, prosecutors added a separate count of misdemeanor underage drinking and driving.

The case went to trial before a jury, and the jury found the accused guilty of the DWI charges, as well as the lower standard underage drinking and driving charge. The jury acquitted the defendant of a charge of giving a false name and birth date to the police officer.

The judge entered a conviction on the underage drinking charge and dismissed the two counts of DWI and the prosecutors appealed that ruling. A three judge appellate panel ruled last week that the trial judge erred and ordered that the court convict the young driver of DWI.

Fourth degree DWI charges allow for up to two years of probation, upon a DWI conviction. The underage drinking and driving charge was limited under state law to a one year probation period, and the appellate panel concluded that the defendant should have been convicted and sentenced on the most severe jury verdict, which is the norm under state law.

Source: Minnesota Court of Appeals, “State v. A.V., A11-869,” March 26, 2012

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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