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

Attorneys Jeffrey Sheridan and DeAnne Dulas stading up

In Minnesota, It is illegal for drivers to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or with a blood alcohol content (BAC) at 0.08 or above. The 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

Generally speaking in Minnesota, a first, second, or third DWI offense is charged as a misdemeanor. A first or second DWI offense can be charged as a gross misdemeanor if there are any aggravating factors. These include situations where: 

  • A driver’s BAC level was at or above 0.16, 
  • There was a child in the vehicle at the time of the arrest, or
  • The driver refused to take a chemical test. 

A third DWI is automatically a gross misdemeanor.

Gross misdemeanors involve more severe penalties. For example, a driver charged with a misdemeanor DWI  may be required to pay a $1,000 fine or spend up to 90 days in jail. But 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 may be charged with a felony DWI if the following circumstances are present:

  • They have a prior felony DWI conviction on their record,
  • They were convicted of felony-level criminal vehicular homicide involving alcohol or another form of controlled substance in the past, or
  • They have three or more alcohol-related driving incidents on their record in the past 10 years.

Unlike misdemeanor DWI charges, 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 those mentioned above.

Drivers who face charges for felony DWI may be required to pay a fine of up to $14,000 and spend up to seven years in prison. 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.

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