Minnesota launched a state-wide public safety campaign to raise awareness for drunk driving. An enhanced enforcement period was in effect from mid-August through labor day weekend.
Enhanced DWI Enforcement in Minnesota
From August 14th through September 7th, Minnesota law enforcement ran a campaign to raise public awareness about the dangers of drunk driving. Sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the campaign has become an annual, state-wide event that focuses on drunk driving accidents and safety awareness. During the enforcement period, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides federal funds to support overtime shifts for more than 300 police departments, county sheriff’s departments, and State Patrol officers across the state.
Minnesota’s Enhanced DWI Enforcement Campaign is scheduled annually from mid-August through Labor Day weekend, one of the most dangerous times of the year for drunk driving. In Minnesota, the Labor Day holiday is the fourth deadliest major holiday for Minnesota drivers due to drunk driving fatalities. Over Labor Day weekend, one in four traffic deaths is related to drunk driving. In 2019, Minneapolis drunk driving lawyers saw a jump in personal injury claims and wrongful death lawsuits with more than 500 people injured in drunk driving accidents and 137 killed by drunk drivers.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken many drivers off the road, decreasing DWI arrests, there were still 2,100 drivers arrested in July 2020 for DWI in Minnesota. These numbers are just slightly below the numbers for last July, trailing DWI arrests numbers for the Fourth of July and Halloween. By August 10, 2020, there were close to 14,000 drunk driving arrests by Minnesota law enforcement.
Rise in DWI Arrests
Every year during the Enhanced DWI Enforcement period, law enforcement officers look for drunk drivers on Minnesota roads. Since their focus is to take drunk drivers off the streets and prevent accidents and injuries, it’s likely that DWI arrest numbers will rise and drunk driving lawyers will see an increase in felony arrests.
Minnesota law enforcement officers are on the lookout for signs of drunk driving such as speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, running red lights and stop signs, and wrong-way driving. Minnesota police officers and State Patrol are allowed to stop drivers who are driving erratically, sleeping in their cars, or parked in certain areas for long periods of time. The law permits officers to make wellness and safety checks for suspicious activities. Minnesota officers only need a reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. Reasonable suspicion means there is a rational presumption or belief that a crime has been or is being committed.
When an officer exercises reasonable suspicion to pull a driver over for drunk driving, field sobriety tests will likely be conducted. These tests usually include breath tests, walking tests, and eye/hand coordination tests. Under Minnesota law, drivers are not legally obligated to take field sobriety tests. Under the law, drivers are only required to submit to chemical tests that measure blood alcohol content (BAC) through a breathalyzer, blood, or urine test, and these are typically performed at police stations or jails, or in hospitals, if injuries are involved.
DWI Arrests and Convictions
In 2019, Minnesota saw a significant rise in DWI arrests. According to law enforcement, 28,000 drivers were cited for drunk and/or impaired driving caused drug use. Minneapolis drunk driving lawyers saw a rise in both misdemeanor and felony DWI arrests and convictions.
Minnesota drunk driving arrests can be classified as misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor DWI offenses or felony DWI offenses, depending on aggravating factors including the level of the driver’s impairment and number and severity of injuries caused by the drunk driver.
Misdemeanor DWI Charges
Drunk drivers with no aggravating factors are usually charged with a 4th-degree misdemeanor which carries fines up to $1,000 and a possible jail sentence up to 90 days, if convicted. If there are aggravating factors, a driver can be charged with a 2nd-degree or 3rd-degree gross misdemeanor. These charges have harsher punishments including fines up to $3,000 and jail sentences up to one year, if convicted.
Felony DWI Charges
Minnesota drunk drivers with at least three aggravating factors will be charged with a felony DWI. If charged and convicted of a 1st-degree felony DWI, a driver will face severe penalties including fines up to $14,000 and jail time up to seven years. Felony DWI charges are serious and require a Minnesota drunk driving lawyer with experience in felony DWI offenses. Without proper legal defense, a felony DWI conviction may result in harsh penalties or an unfair plea deal pushed by a prosecuting attorney.