A Brief Guide to DWI Laws in Minnesota

Minnesota prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or a hazardous substance. Minnesota further prohibits the operation of a vehicle while a driver has an alcohol concentration (or blood-alcohol level) of 0.08 percent or more (or 0.04 percent if operating a commercial vehicle). Finally, drivers may not ingest any schedule I or II controlled substances (other than marijuana) and operate a vehicle.

If a driver engages in any of the above-stated conduct, he or she may be guilty of driving while impaired. The crime of driving while impaired applies to motorboats, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and off-road vehicles.

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Minnesota divides punishments into two categories: administrative and criminal. The severity of the penalty depends on the circumstances of the crime and the person’s record of driving while impaired.

Administrative sanctions are immediately levied on the person upon arrest. For example, if a person fails a chemical test or refuses to submit, that person’s license is promptly revoked. Additionally, the police may seize the vehicle as a civil forfeiture and impound the vehicle’s plates. Drivers must undergo separate administrative proceedings to seek relief from these punishments, a victory during their criminal trial is insufficient.

Criminal sanctions result after if breath or urine testing is failed after an arrest. The consequences of a criminal conviction or no-contest plea could include court-monitoring, probation, fines, incarceration, chemical dependency treatment, and mandatory therapy classes (like Alcoholics Anonymous). A conviction or guilty plea results in a permanent criminal record.

Implied Consent

It is a crime for a person to refuse to submit to a chemical test of one’s blood, urine or breath. Minnesota imposes this punishment because the law presumes that every person who operates a vehicle impliedly consents to a chemical test of their breath, blood, or urine (however a recent Supreme Court decision resulted in a slight modification of these laws as they relate to blood testing).

A police officer may administer the test after he or she determines that there is probable cause that the person committed a driving while impaired (“DWI”) violation and one of the following occurred:

  • The person refused to take the DWI pre-screening test. The pre-screening test refers to a series of exercises an officer can use to assess a person’s coordination, balance, and focus on determining if that person is under the influence of substance.
  • The person was involved in a motor vehicle accident or collision that resulted in bodily injury.

If the officer assesses that she has probable cause to believe a DWI violation occurred, she may arrest the person and demand more rigorous testing. However, before the officer may administer the test, she must read the person the implied consent advisory statement which advises the person that testing is mandatory, refusal to submit is a crime and that the individual may request the assistance of an attorney before taking the test.

If the person is unconscious when the officer arrives, consent is not withdrawn, and the officer may administer the test.

The driver may refuse either urine or blood test , but may not refuse breath tests.

License Revocation and Reinstatement

License revocation does not prohibit all forms of driving. A person may apply for a limited license that allows them to drive to and from work, to and from substance abuse courses, and for homemaker purposes. However, to obtain a limited license the person may only operate a vehicle with an ignition interlock device engaged. Ignition interlock devices attach to the steering column of a vehicle and prevent operation until the driver blows into the device to establish that he or she is not under the influence.

A person may use this limited license until the revocation period has ended. Once the revocation period is ended and the revoked river has taken the drivers test, the driving license is reinstated.

However, if a driver’s license was canceled, his license is not reinstated without proof of abstinence through the use of an ignition interlock device.

A driver’s license is canceled if the person:

  • Has three or more DWI convictions within ten years, or
  • Four or more convictions total in their criminal record.

The court may impose a “no alcohol / no drugs” restriction on a license. When a license is subject to a “no alcohol / no drugs” restriction, the license may be canceled at any time upon sufficient evidence of drug or alcohol use. Moreover, the person is subject to license cancelation even if he or she was not driving at the time.

The person must submit evidence supporting 12 months of abstinence before the “no alcohol / no drugs” restriction is removed. The one-year rule is met through the use of an ignition interlock device without incident.

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