Minnesota’s New, Tougher DWI Laws
Minnesota’s DWI laws are getting tougher. With a reduction of the BAC threshold for gross misdemeanor offenses to .16% from the previous threshold of .20%, there may be as many as 3,000 more mid-level DWI offenses in the state this year. That represents an increase of more than 70%. The gross misdemeanor BAC is twice that for lower-level misdemeanor DWI offenses, which stands at .08%. Gross misdemeanor DWIs are considered “seriously impaired” violations.
Harsher Punishments for Mid-Level DWI Offenses
The penalties for mid-level DWI offenses include up to a year in jail, an increase of 90 days from the lower-level misdemeanor offense. The maximum fine for a mid-level DWI is to be tripled, from $1,000 to $3,000, as well as setting more stringent bail standards. The changes also allow for greatly increased rates for auto insurance. Those who are convicted of mid-level, gross misdemeanor DWI offenses may also see harsher penalties for repeat offenses.
Nearly 15% of Minnesota drivers have a DWI conviction on their driving record. The lower BAC for a gross misdemeanor DWI is expected to primarily affect those with previous DWIs, as an average BAC of .165% is common among repeat DWI offenders. St. Paul DWI attorneys have expressed concern over the lower limit, worrying that it may overly punitive. However, the supporters of the new, lower limit posit that the lower limit is not punitive, but rather, will save a greater number of lives on Minnesota roads.
Mid-Level DWI Offenses By the Numbers
Over the past few years, an average of more than 5,000 Minnesotans were charged with mid-level DWI offenses. The majority of blood alcohol levels for these offenders fell between .16% and .19%. Nearly 60% were cited for their first DWI offense. Of all states in the nation, Minnesota has the highest rate of DWI recidivism; more than four in ten DWI offenders go on to have repeat offenses.
For the two year period 2011-2013, nearly 80 people were killed, and more than 40 others were injured, in auto accidents involving a DWI offender with a BAC of .16% to .19%. On average, nearly 100 alcohol-related deaths occur on Minnesota roads each year, and nearly 2,500 are injured. The costs of these accidents are astronomical; in 2013, they were estimated to be roughly $204 million when medical expenses, lost productivity, and property damage are taken into account.
Shocking Penalties for First-Time Offenders
DWI attorneys in St. Paul are praising the legislation’s goals, while worrying about first-time offenders that may be in for a big shock. From a year-long license revocation to jail time and high fines, the penalties for what may be a single mistake can be staggering. For offenders who lose their license, the only avenue for regaining it may be to install an interlock device on their vehicle; an expensive endeavor, especially for drivers who may have simply had a bit too much to drink (without even realizing it) at a family gathering or other special event. Minnesota drivers who are jailed on a mid-level DWI offense also face stiff bail requirements, having to post $12,000 for their release.
Enacting Tougher DWI Laws
During the 2015 Legislative session, the Minnesota DWI Task Force asked lawmakers to consider the enactment of a variety of measures that were meant to reduce the state’s overall occurrence of DWI-related accidents. These measures included immediate seizure of license plates in every DWI offense, including first offenses. They also advocated for lowering the gross misdemeanor BAC level to .16% and the harsher penalties, but declined to push for a lowering of the legal limit from .08% to .05%, or rescinding the DWI Forfeiture Law. While some other groups objected to the lower limits and harsher penalties, lawmakers ultimately agreed with the Minnesota DWI Task Force and enacted several of their proposals.
Proper Representation Essential for Those Accused of DWIs
DWI charges can result in long-lasting, very serious consequences. For this reason, it’s essential for anyone accused of a DWI to have the proper legal representation. Aside from big fines, incarceration, and license revocation or suspension, there may also be lasting damage to the accused party’s reputation, impacting their ability to get a job, secure auto insurance, and more. No DWI charge should be treated lightly; consulting with a St. Paul DWI attorney will help ensure that the accused party’s rights are protected throughout the legal process. Anyone charged with a DWI offense should be educated on their rights and legal options, and a DWI attorney in St. Paul should be able to provide advice about making a strong defense and minimizing the consequences of such charges over the long term.