Stricter law on high-BAC DWIs could affect thousands in Minnesota

Minnesota lawmakers have lowered the BAC level that triggers steeper DWI penalties. State data suggests this change may affect thousands of drivers yearly.

In Minnesota, charges of driving while impaired that involve aggravating factors, such as high blood alcohol concentration levels, are punished more harshly than regular DWI charges. Earlier this year, state lawmakers lowered the BAC level that triggers these enhanced penalties from .20 to .16 percent. This change, which became effective in August, could result in harsher punishments for thousands of drivers in Eagan and other areas, according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Legal changes

Under the new law, people convicted of DWI with a BAC of at least .16 will face gross misdemeanor charges. This type of charge, which is also referred to as a third-degree DWI, carries much harsher consequences than a fourth-degree or misdemeanor DWI. Potential third-degree DWI penalties include:

  • Maximum jail time of 12 months. For a misdemeanor DWI, maximum jail time is capped at 90 days.
  • A maximum fine of $3,000. This is triple the amount that a person can be ordered to pay after a fourth-degree DWI conviction.
  • Higher mandatory bail. Drivers facing gross misdemeanor DWI charges may have to post as much as $12,000 to secure release from jail.

Additionally, these drivers may face longer license revocation periods, required ignition interlock participation, and even greater insurance expenses. Unfortunately, an analysis of the available data suggests that this change will affect many people in Minnesota.

Expected impacts

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reviewed data from the past three years and concluded that about 5,024 people are convicted annually of DWI with BAC levels between .16 and .19. A report from KSTP News, meanwhile, indicates that an average of 25,635 people were convicted of DWI in Minnesota each year between 2013 and 2014. Together, these figures suggest that this change could affect roughly one in five people who are convicted of driving while impaired in the state in a given year.

The new law is expected to particularly affect people with past DWI convictions. According to state data, these people have an average BAC level of .165 when they are arrested for repeat offenses. People who are arrested with this BAC level within 10 years of a prior DWI offense will now face second-degree DWI charges, which carry lengthy mandatory minimum jail terms and a forfeiture of the vehicle involved.

Overall, under the new law, The Minneapolis Star Tribune estimates that nearly 3,000 more people could face gross misdemeanor DWI charges each year. This would represent a marked 71 percent increase in these charges.

Mounting a defense

Given these steep sanctions and the increasing number of drivers who may face them, the accuracy of BAC testing should be considered carefully in any DWI case involving higher BAC levels. Unfortunately, the equipment used for testing in Minnesota often yields unreliable results. People facing DWI charges will benefit from working with a DWI attorney who understands the shortcomings of Minnesota's testing equipment and can highlight these potential issues or take other steps to pursue a more favorable outcome.