Stiffer DWI Penalties in Minnesota

Minnesota law enforcement is putting their proverbial foot down when it comes to drunk driving. While getting behind the wheel after two beers may seem harmless, it could land drivers in a good deal of trouble with DWI penalties in Minnesota.

While punishments for drinking and driving in Minnesota are an old story, authorities are truly cracking down on DWI offenses. In fact, Minnesota is redefining what it means to drive while intoxicated. Someone who has not committed a misdemeanor on July 31st would find that those same actions, and that same level of intoxication would be a misdemeanor come August.

Authorities hope that these new regulations will have a deterrent effect and actively encourage people to make other arrangements rather than thinking they are “sober enough.” As one former bar owner put it, “When you think you’re fine, you’re really not fine.”


Law enforcement officers in Minnesota test a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) to determine if they are driving on public roadways while their motor skills are impaired. BAC has long proven itself as the proper evidence to submit when a person is charged with drunk driving. In fact, BAC tells law enforcement and prosecutors just how impaired a person was while they drove around the state. This is important because there are different charges assigned to drivers depending upon their level of drunkenness.

Keep in mind that there are technically two different crimes that fall under the category of “drunk driving”; the first is driving while impaired (DWI), and the second is driving under the influence (DUI). A BAC of .01% is enough to serve as evidence that a driver under 21 was driving while intoxicated. For someone of legal drinking age a BAC above .08% will show that a driver was intoxicated.

The new law will affect the BAC level that permits a prosecutor to charge a driver with a DWI. More specifically, the evidence needed for a charge of a gross misdemeanor DWI will change. Prior to August 1, 2015 a driver’s BAC must have surpassed .20%; after that date a driver’s BAC need only surpass .16%. The punishment can now include a $3,000 fine and up to one year in jail.


In 2013, 387 Minnesota drivers and passengers were killed during collisions involving intoxicated drivers. As Moorhead Police Tory Jacobson explained, “Forty percent are repeat DUIs and will probably reach this threshold at least two times the legal amount so certainly there are dangerous drivers out there.”

Conventional wisdom provides legislators with an argument that stricter penalties act as a deterrent to criminal activity. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that many would-be drunk drivers will know or check if their BAC has gone from .07% (under the legal limit) to .08% (over the limit). This is likely true for the changing misdemeanor level as well.

Time will tell whether the latest changes prove to help curb drinking and driving within Minnesota.

At the Kohlmeyer Hagen Law Office we understand that people make mistakes. If you have been charged with driving while impaired let us help you ensure that this mistake does not dictate your future.

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