What is the difference between felony and misdemeanor DWI in MN?

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, it is illegal for drivers to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or with a blood alcohol level at or above 0.08. However, the penalties and consequences drivers face for this offense depend on how many alcohol-related convictions are on their record and if the DWI is considered a misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanor DWI

The department states that a first, second or third DWI offense is viewed as a misdemeanor. However, a first or second DWI offense can be elevated to a gross misdemeanor if the driver's BAC level was at or above 0.16, if there was a child in the vehicle at the time of the arrest or if he or she refuses to take a chemical test. If this is the person's third DWI, the charge automatically becomes a gross misdemeanor.

When drivers are charged with a gross misdemeanor, the penalties become more severe. For example, a driver who receives a DWI for the first time, and has a BAC level below 0.16 may be required to pay a $1,000 fine or spend up to 90 days in jail. In comparison, a driver who is charged with a first offense gross misdemeanor may have to spend up to a year in jail and pay a $3,000 fine.

Felony DWI

Drivers who are arrested for driving under the influence may be found guilty of a felony DWI if, states the Minnesota House of Representatives, the following circumstances are present:

  • They have a prior felony DWI conviction on their record
  • They were convicted of committing a felony crime of criminal vehicular homicide involving alcohol or another form of controlled substance in the past
  • They have three or more drunk-driving related convictions on their record during the past 10 years

Unlike a misdemeanor DWI charge, factors such as having a child in the car or driving with a high BAC level do not aggravate this charge. Instead, the only circumstances that can contribute to a felony are previous, qualified drunk-driving related incidents and prior convictions for a felony DWI.

Drivers who face charges for felony DWI may be required to pay a fine of no more than $14,000 and spend up to seven years in prison. However, if drivers have other criminal convictions on their record, they may face a prison sentence of more than seven years.

DWI charges come with severe penalties

The charges for both felony and misdemeanor DWI are extremely severe and have the potential to harm a driver's reputation, employment prospects and finances. If you were recently charged with DWI, consult with an attorney who can explain to you your legal rights.