Driving While Impaired (DWI) in Minnesota
Also called Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Drunk Driving

Laws found in Chapter 169A of Minnesota Statutes

Minnesota DWI / DUI Offenses (generally)

Generally speaking, to commit the crime of DWI / DUI in Minnesota, a person must be in control of a vehicle. Then, while in control of a vehicle, the person must also (a) be “under the influence of” alcohol, drugs, or some other hazardous substance (or “a combination of any two or more” of these elements); (b) have a alcohol concentration level that is over the legal limit (generally this is going to be 0.08); or (c) have any “any amount of a controlled substance” listed as either a Schedule I or a Schedule II narcotic.

To be guilty of DWI / DUI, you cannot be solely a passenger in the vehicle. However, being in physical control of a vehicle could mean you had possession of, access to, or control of a key to the ignition of the vehicle. Also, simply because a vehicle is not started or running does not mean a person is not operating it. Having the vehicle’s ignition key and ignition within reach such that a person could start the vehicle may still be determined to be “physical control” of the vehicle in question.

“Motor Vehicles” in Minnesota

“Motor Vehicles” can include “every vehicle that is self-propelled and every vehicle that is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires. The term includes motor boats in operation and off-road recreational vehicles, but does not include a vehicle moved solely by human power.” This could include, then, standard cars and trucks generally driven on the streets and highways in Minnesota. It could also include motorcycles, commercial vehicles, boats and other watercrafts (like waverunners and jet skis), off-road vehicles (like all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), snowmobiles, “quads” or “quad bikes,” or motocross or other off-road motorbikes or motorcycles), etc.

Alcohol Concentration and “Over the Limit” in Minnesota

A person’s “alcohol concentration” limit in Minnesota is currently 0.08 grams of alcohol per one hundred (100) milliliters of blood. This is a reduction from the previous level of 0.10 (existing prior to law change in 2005). Additionally, under certain circumstances the legal limit may be reduced under Minnesota law. For example, the driver of a commercial motor vehicle is currently limited to 0.04. Also, certain additional restrictions may apply under other special circumstances including but not limited to an absolute prohibition on any alcohol concentration at the time of the operation or within two (2) hours of the time of driving, operating, or being in physical control of the vehicle – with exception, and certain defenses may apply.

Under the Influence in Minnesota

It is important to recognize that a person can also be “under the influence” even though the person’s alcohol concentration is below the maximum legal level allowed by statute, as the person’s actual impairment can be a deciding factor. Also, drugs, narcotics, or other elements affecting or impairing a person’s ability to drive or operate a motor vehicle may be considered too, as there is generally no allowable “limit” defined as legal.

Additionally, under Minnesota DWI / DUI law, there are certain “aggravating” or “mitigating” factors that may apply to any particular DWI incident. Aggravation is the existence of a fact or circumstance that increases the seriousness of a DWI / DUI offense. Mitigation is the existence of a fact or circumstance that decreases the seriousness of a DWI / DUI offense.

DWI / DUI Aggravation vs. Mitigation in Minnesota

Two examples of legal aggravation include (1) “having a child under the age of 16 in the motor vehicle at the time of the offense if the child is more than 36 months younger than the offender; and (2) when a person’s alcohol concentration is “0.20 or more as measured at the time, or within two hours of the time, of the offense.” An example of mitigation could include the lack of any prior criminal history.

Other aggravating (or mitigating) factors exist for DWI / DUI offenses, and it is extremely important to have a qualified DWI / DUI attorney to examine your case and to determine all possible or mandatory criminal penalties that exist under the law and the facts and circumstances of a particular case.

In Minnesota, there are four (4) different degrees of “Driving While Impaired” (DWI).

Four Driving While Impaired Offenses in Minnesota

The most severe DWI is “First-Degree Driving While Impaired.” The law requires that a person (1) commits the violation within ten years of the first of three or more qualified prior impaired driving incidents; (2) has previously been convicted of a felony under this section; or (3) has previously been convicted of a felony” under certain other specifically-listed sections of the law. First-Degree DWI is a “felony,” and “mandatory penalties” may exist.

The next DWI is “Second-Degree Driving While Impaired.” To be convicted of this, the law requires “two or more aggravating factors…when the violation was committed.” Also, person commits Second-Degree DWI if the person refuses to commit to a chemical test (as defined in the law) and also if there is “one aggravating factor present” when the DWI is committed. Second-Degree DWI is a “gross misdemeanor,” and “mandatory penalties” may exist.

The next DWI is “Third-Degree Driving While Impaired.” To be guilty of this offense, just one “aggravating factor” must be present at the time of the DWI. Also, this offense can be committed by refusing to submit to a chemical test (as required by law). Third-Degree DWI is a “gross misdemeanor,” and “mandatory penalties” may exist.

The final DWI is “Fourth-Degree Driving While Impaired.” A person commits this offense when there are none of the above circumstances, “incidents,” or “aggravating factors” as generally outlined above. This is the basic or general crime of DWI / DUI.