A change in the Minnesota DWI law could expose thousands of drivers to much more severe penalties, should they be stopped with higher blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) beginning in August. The threshold for a gross misdemeanor drunk driving charge has been lowered by the legislature from 0.20 to 0.16 BAC.
While that may sound insignificant, that small percentage change could mean a 71 percent increase in the number of drivers facing that charge, according to an analysis by the Star Tribune newspaper.
Instead of looking at a maximum 90-day jail term, you could be sentenced up to one-year under the new law, and your fine could triple to $3,000. Bail for offenders is substantially increased and the more severe penalties will lead to even greater penalties for should you receive a subsequent DWI charge.
For many first time offenders, the new penalties will seem extremely punitive, and with a one-year license suspension, in addition to higher insurance premiums, a driver hoping to obtain a license to drive to work or school, will be faced with the expense of an ignition interlock device being added to the vehicle.
An ignition interlock device is like having a breath-testing machine hooked up to your ignition system, and in order to drive your vehicle, you have to provide a breath sample to start the vehicle and at random points during your trip.
This device is expensive to install and maintain, and the offender is required to pay for that installation and the monthly maintenance costs.
Given that the average BAC of a first time DWI offender was 0.148, it means that this law may affect many more drivers than old gross misdemeanor law, and in the last three years more than 5,000 people would have received a gross misdemeanor charge, had the new law been in place.
Source: startribune.com, “Minnesota stiffens penalties for mid-level DWIs,” Dan Browning, June 14, 2015