What Is the Difference Between DUI and DWI in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, DUI and DWI are the same offenses, carrying either a misdemeanor or felony charge. In this state, drivers caught with blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeding the state’s limit of 0.08 are guilty of DUI or DWI. A driver with trace amounts of controlled substances or prescription drugs in his or her system is also guilty of DWI, or driving while intoxicated or impaired. A DWI can be treated as a misdemeanor or a gross misdemeanor offense. It can turn into a felony charge depending on the circumstances.

This article sheds light on DWI charges in Minnesota and their ramifications.

Understanding DUI and DWI Offenses

Minnesota is an “implied consent” state, meaning that all drivers are mandated to accept field sobriety tests. Drivers who refuse the field sobriety tests risk having their DUI or DWI charges upgraded to criminal offenses. Refusing breathalyzer tests often result in much harsher penalties and fines.

In Minnesota, DUI or DWI offenses are committed when a driver:

  • Operates a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol, hazardous substances, or controlled substances; or
  • Returns a positive urinalysis, breath test, or blood test result for illegal or controlled substances; or
  • Has a blood alcohol content, or BAC, above the stipulated legal limit.

DWI Arrests in Minnesota

Upon suspicion of driving while impaired, a police officer pulls over the driver. The officer performs a field sobriety test on the suspect. These tests include a breathalyzer test, among other spot tests, to determine whether the driver is impaired or not.

The arresting officer reads the driver his or her consent testing rights. The officer may recommend further testing at the station. The arrested driver has the right to request a confirmatory test in Minnesota.

Minnesota DWI Levels or Degrees 

There are multiple levels of DWI charges in Minnesota.

Fourth Degree DWI

In Minnesota, a first-time DWI offender gets slapped with a fourth-degree charge. This charge carries a maximum penalty of 90 days behind bars or the equivalent of a $1,000 fine. First-time offenders are often exempted from the maximum penalty, however.

A first-time DWI is still a serious offense. If found guilty, the driver may face a 90-day license revocation as well as the addition of the conviction to the driver’s criminal record. The guilty party may also get subjected to random drug tests, probation, mandatory community service, rehab time, and alcohol restriction penalties.

Third-Degree DWI

A 3rd degree DWI in Minnesota amounts to a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 3 years in jail or up to $3,000 in fines. Offenders with one other DWI conviction in the last 10 years can face this charge. Those who refuse a blood, urine, or breathalyzer test may face this charge, as well.

Second-Degree DWI

A 2nd degree DWI is deemed a gross misdemeanor. It attracts a jail time of at least a year and fines of up to $3,000. It’s preferred against offenders with two other DWI convictions in the last 10 years. It’s also preferred against those with one prior conviction in the past 10 years and refuses a blood, urine, or breathalyzer test.

First Degree DWI

Drivers with three prior DWI convictions in less than ten years, and those with prior felony convictions, face a first-degree DWI or DUI felony charge in Minnesota. The DWI misdemeanor becomes a gross misdemeanor or a felony if the driver was severely intoxicated while behind the wheel, has a criminal history, or there were children on board. This felony charge extends to people with a prior criminal vehicular operation conviction, as well.

Alcohol and Substance Limits in Minnesota

DUI and DWI charges depend on the driver’s age. In Minnesota, drivers under 21 who are found with alcohol trace levels of 0.01% risk of either DUI or DWI charges. The BAC legal limit for drivers over 21 years stands at 0.08%. Drivers whose BAC levels are within the state’s legal limits but still fail the field sobriety test are also guilty of these offenses.

The cost of DWI charges in Minnesota

In Minnesota, the cost of a DWI charge varies depending on the offender’s circumstances. On average, however, these charges cost around $10,000. First-time offenders may be required to pay up to $1,000 in fines.

Drivers with prior DWI convictions face costs of up to three times the maximum penalty. Guilty drivers have to pay an additional cost of anywhere from $150 to $250 for impound and towing fees. There’s also an extra cost of between $150 and $250 for the mandatory chemical dependency testing.

License Revocation Following a DWI 

A driver found guilty of DWI or DUI gets his or her license withdrawn. According to Minn. Stat 169A.51, all Minnesota registered drivers are obligated to automatically consent to field sobriety tests and other chemical tests to check for controlled substances and alcohol levels.

License Suspension Following DWI Conviction

Typically, DWI convictions lead to license cancelations ranging from 90 days to a few years. This duration depends on factors, such as the offender’s criminal history and the events leading to the arrest.

A first-time DUI or DWI offender whose BAC level was less than 0.16 at the time of arrest may see his or her license suspended for 15 days. After this duration, the offender can get the license reinstated, but with limited privileges for 90 days. Alternatively, the offender may opt to install an ignition interlock device on the vehicle for the next 12 months.

DWI Convictions and Their Consequences

DWI convictions leave offenders facing consequences beyond fines and jail time.


A DWI charge impacts the offender’s employment chances since it is reflected on his or her criminal records. These changes affect offenders’ chances of getting hired or promoted. Convicted people risk getting fired, suspended, or facing disciplinary actions from safety-sensitive jobs, such as trucking, nuclear power, railroads, pipelines, transit, and maritime.

Insurance Coverage

Following a DUI conviction and license suspension or revocation, the affected driver needs to get in touch with his or her insurance companies for coverage reactivation. This process involves the auto insurer submitting an SR22 form to the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) on the driver’s behalf.

The SR22 enables the driver to operate with a minimum liability policy for three years. A convicted DUI offender will also see his or her insurance premium rates revised upwards by as much as 300%.

Renting a House

Finding a house to rent may be a challenge for a person with a DWI conviction.

Professional License

DUI or DWI conviction in Minnesota may result in the suspension or revocation of a professional license.

Fighting DUI or DWI Charges in Minnesota

A Minnesota DUI or DWI charge carries severe consequences, but the accused person can take certain steps to get the charges dismissed or at least reduced. Getting the support and advice of a Minneapolis DWI lawyer can help the defendant protect his or her rights and obtain a favorable outcome. The lawyer can use constitutional and technical arguments to suppress key evidence and get the charges reduced or dismissed completely.

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-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. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

People facing criminal charges in Minnesota often ask, “Can you defend yourself in court?” You can represent yourself in court when charged with a crime. Self-representation, however, is not typically in the accused's best interests, even if courts allow it.
Parents whose children have been arrested or accused of committing a heinous crime might wonder, “Can a minor be charged with a felony?” A minor aged 14 years or older but below 18 years may face felony charges in Minnesota.
People accused of or under investigation for assault might ask, “What are the charges for assault?” Minnesota has five levels of assault charges. First-degree assault is the most serious offense, and a conviction often results in the most severe penalties, like long prison time and hefty fines.