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Is DWI a Felony or Misdemeanor Offense?

Is DWI a Felony or Misdemeanor Offense?

A person accused of driving while impaired (DWI) might wonder, “is DWI a felony or misdemeanor?” Whether a DWI is a felony or misdemeanor will depend on the unique circumstances of your offense, previous record, and state-specific laws. The primary difference between the two levels of offense is the penalties that result from a conviction. A felony conviction carries more severe penalties than a misdemeanor. In Minnesota, a DWI conviction will stay on your record for the rest of your life. So, it is wise to aggressively fight your charge with the help of a DWI defense lawyer who has a stellar record of handling cases like yours. 

The Difference Between a Felony DWI and A Misdemeanor DWI

The major difference between a felony DWI and a Misdemeanor DWI is the ensuing punishment of a conviction. A felony DWI conviction carries imprisonment of up to seven years and up to $14,000 in fines. On top of that, the offender faces numerous collateral consequences, ranging from loss of voting and firearm possession rights to loss of professional licenses and trouble getting a job. 

A misdemeanor DWI conviction can result in a minimum of 30 days to up to a year in prison. It can also lead to a fine of up to $1,000. You may also lose your driving privileges following a misdemeanor DWI conviction. 

Another difference between facing a felony DWI and a misdemeanor DWI in Minnesota is the unique circumstances of the offense. You might, for instance, face a misdemeanor DWI charge if your alcohol concentration was below 0.16 and no accident or injury happened. Another example is that you might be charged with felony DWI if you have a prior criminal vehicular homicide and injury on your record.

 How Long Does A DWI Charge Stay on Record?

How long a DWI stays on your record will vary from state to state. It could be ten years if you live in Alabama. It could also be for the rest of your life if you live in Minnesota. As such, you should get a DWI defense attorney involved immediately after you are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or charged with DWI. An attorney with a proven history of successfully representing DWI offenders can fight your charges on your behalf and help you avoid a conviction. 

A DWI in Minnesota appears in your driving record and criminal record. Employers will only check your driving record if the ability to operate a motor vehicle is one of the requirements of the position you are seeking. 

Employers will, however, pay attention to a DWI charge or conviction on your criminal history. Prospective housing providers and learning institutions will also see this record. The outcome is difficulty securing employment, renting a house, or joining college. 

The good thing is that it is possible to expunge a DWI from your criminal record in Minnesota. Under the state’s current expungement law, misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors are eligible for expungement. Felony DWI convictions remain ineligible for expungement. 

Expungement is a lengthy process. Additionally, you must wait a couple of years after completing your sentence to be eligible for expungement. You must wait for two years from when your sentence got discharged to be eligible for expungement if you have a 4th-degree DWI. The waiting period for 2nd- and 3rd-degree DWI is four years. 

In Minnesota, a judge is responsible for deciding whether to grant an expungement. The judge, however, uses guidelines spelled out under Minnesota Statute Section 609A.03 to arrive at this decision. This statute requires the court to approve the expungement request unless any party or entity disputing the request can prove by clear and compelling evidence that the risk to the public is far much greater than the consequence the petitioner will face for not erasing the record. 

A judge will weigh various factors when deciding whether driving while intoxicated record is eligible for sealing. These factors include but are not limited to the following:

  • The type and seriousness of the underlying crime;
  • Your criminal record;
  • Your risk to individuals and the public; 
  • Expungement reasons, such as efforts to secure a job or housing;
  • The time that has passed since the crime happened;
  • Your employment history and participation in community affairs. 

The Expungement Process 

This process begins with filing a petition for expungement with the appropriate court and serving a copy of the same alongside the proposed expungement order on the prosecutor in charge of your case when you got convicted. You must also mail copies of those documents to other agencies that might lose their records if the court grants an expungement. 

After getting a copy of the petition, the prosecutor must inform any victims of the underlying crime of the request to seal records. The goal is to ensure that the victims know they have a right to provide their opinion at the forthcoming expungement hearing. The prosecutor or any other agency that has received a copy of the petition can also furnish the court with any information it believes will be essential in its response. 

The court will set a date to hear the petition after all the paperwork has been submitted, and all involved parties are served. Generally, a hearing will happen 60 days from the date all involved parties received a copy of the petition and other documentation. 

A lawyer familiar with Minnesota expungement law can gather enough evidence and convincing legal arguments to help you build a compelling case. As such, partnering with a lawyer is your best chance of convincing a judge to grant an expungement.  

What Happens if You Have Repeat Offenses?

A DWI is an enhancing offense in Minnesota. In other words, the more DWI convictions on your criminal record, the harsher the penalties for each subsequent charge and conviction. For instance, if you have a 2017 DWI conviction and then get convicted of DWI in 2023 again, the penalties for the second DWI will be harsher. This consideration applies even if the first conviction got erased from your record. 

Prosecutors will enhance penalties for your DWI based on the number of DWI citations on your driving record. A second offense will be deemed a gross misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail or up to $3,000 in fines, or both. It will also result in license revocation, a requirement to carry whiskey plates, and other potential administrative penalties. 

A third offense is still a misdemeanor that attracts a prison time of one year or a fine of $3,000, or both. It also leads to vehicle forfeiture, license revocation, whiskey plates requirement, and harsher administrative penalties than those for a second offense. 

A fourth or more DWI offense carries up to 7 years in prison or a $14,000 fine, or both. It also results in vehicle forfeiture, cancelation of license, whiskey plates requirement, and harsher administrative penalties than those for a third offense. 

Penalties enhancement has a 10-year deadline, however. So, if your DWI is more than ten years old, the prosecutors will not use that DWI to enhance your penalties. The 10-year deadline does not apply to felony DWI convictions. In other words, all your future DWIs will be considered a felony if you have a previous felony DWI on your record. 

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