The Minnesota Legislature lowered the threshold for mid-level DWI offense to a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.16 percent in August of 2015 in an attempt to crack down on the state’s drunk drivers. An average of 30,000 are arrested for DWI each year in Minnesota and approximately one in seven licensed drivers in the state of Minnesota has at least one drunk driving offense on their record. Alcohol related vehicle accidents in the state were responsible for medical expenses, lost productivity and property damage costs totaling a whopping $204 million in 2013 alone.
A blood alcohol concentration level of 0.16 is a full 0.04 percentage point lower than the previous BAC level for gross misdemeanor DWIs, but still twice the limit for regular misdemeanor driving while intoxicated offenses. While many Minneapolis criminal defense attorneys argue that the lower BAC limit is too harsh, advocates claim that it will save lives. According to the chief sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, Senator Ron Latz, research indicates that the chances of becoming involved in an accident soars when a driver has a BAC of anything over 0.15 percent. Between 2011 and 2013, an average of 99 people lost their lives in alcohol related vehicle accidents in Minnesota each year. During those years 77 people were killed and 42 were injured in accidents that involved drivers with blood alcohol concentration levels between 0.16 percent and 0.19 percent.
Who is Expected to be Affected by the Changes?
Approximately 15,000 individuals were charged with DWIs in Minnesota while having blood alcohol concentration levels of 0.16 percent and 0.19 percent over the last three years. The Department of Public Safety reports that 60 percent of those charged were first offenders. One Minneapolis criminal defense attorney expressed concern that the lower threshold will expose clients with otherwise clean records to sanctions that are overly severe simply because they had a couple of extra drinks at a wedding or holiday party, but according to the chair of the Minnesota DWI Task Force David Bernstein, the law will primarily affect repeat DWI offenders. The average BAC of repeat DWI offenders is 0.165 percent, while the average BAC for first time offenders is only 0.148 percent- still a level that is awfully close to the new threshold.
An Analysis by the Star Tribune found that the lower limit for gross misdemeanor DWIs could result in approximately 3,000 additional individuals being charged with mid-level DWIs each year if the averages for previous years are any indication. That is a spike of approximately 71 percent. It is hoped that the new law will make all drivers think twice before having those few extra drinks.
Significant Penalties for Mid-Level DWIs
One reason a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney might consider the lower BAC threshold for mid-level DWIs too strict is that the conviction can carry significant penalties. Some penalties that individuals who are convicted of driving with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.16 percent or higher might face include:
- Increased Jail Time: DWI offenders could be required to serve jail terms of up to one year. The maximum jail term for a misdemeanor DWI conviction is 90 days.
- Ignition Interlock: Convicted offenders with a BAC level of more than 0.16 percent will be required to use an ignition interlock or give up their driving privileges for a period of one year. An ignition interlock is a device that is installed in the offender’s vehicle that is designed to measure alcohol levels in the drivers breath before allowing him or her to start the vehicle.
- Increase Time for Loss of Driving Privileges: Offenders can lose their driving privileges for up to one year and be required to pay a $680 reinstatement fee, pass a DWI knowledge test, complete a new driver’s license application and pay required fees, and complete a chemical health assessment.
- Increased Fines: Offenders convicted of mid-level DWIs can face fines of up to $3,000 in fines. The maximum fine for a driver convicted of a DWI with a blood alcohol concentration level less than 0.16 percent is $1,000.
- Vehicle Forfeiture: Convicted Minnesota drivers with a BAC of more than 0.16 percent and/ or those who have a child in the vehicle can be forced to give up their vehicle and their license plates could be impounded.
It is vital for Minnesota drivers who have been charged with a gross misdemeanor DWI to consult with a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to achieve a more satisfactory outcome of their case. In some situations, an experienced Minneapolis criminal defense attorney can help drivers who have been charged with a mid-level DWI receive a reduction in charges or avoid a conviction altogether.