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Minnesota DWI Defense

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Just like everyone else, police officers make mistakes. Moreover, Minnesota laws are not always clear — ambiguities and technicalities in the law regularly present new issues for courts to consider. Contact a Minnesota DUI / DWI defense attorney to educate yourself. Learn about what you can expect in both the criminal and administrative proceedings that follow an arrest. More importantly, learn what you can do about it!

The Balmer Law Office offers free, confidential case evaluations and is available via its 24-hour hotline: 612-326-4175.

Based in the southwest metro, Minneapolis-area criminal defense attorney David Balmer practices in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota.

Minnesota DWI / DUI / Drunk Driving Law

In Minnesota there is no meaningful difference between the terms Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Impaired (DWI). Minnesota still refers to the offense as DWI, though the more common term is DUI. In Minnesota a driver can be convicted of DWI for driving, operating, or being in physical control of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in excess of .08, or for simply driving, operating, or being in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.

The State of Minnesota divides DWI offenses into four severity levels. Which one you might be charged with depends on factors including whether you have previous qualified driving incidents,  BAC, and whether or not a child was in the vehicle.

Fourth Degree DWI

Fourth Degree Driving While Impaired is a misdemeanor-level offense and the lowest severity level. If your BAC was under .16, you did not have a child in the car / vehicle at the time of the offense, and you do not have a qualified impaired driving conviction within the previous 10 years, then you were likely charged with fourth degree DWI. Unlike the other more severe forms of the offense, a conviction for fourth degree DWI does not require a minimum sentence. However, as with all DWI offenses, harsh collateral consequences follow a criminal conviction. 

Contact a knowledgeable Minnesota DWI defense attorney to improve your chances at beating a conviction.

Third Degree DWI

Third Degree Driving While Impaired is a gross misdemeanor offense and is charged if a driver has a qualified impaired driving incident within the previous 10 years, had a BAC of .16 or greater during the offense, or had a child present at the time of the offense. Under Minnesota law, a conviction for third degree DWI may require a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days of incarceration. 

Second Degree DWI

Second Degree Driving While Impaired is also a gross misdemeanor offense and can be charged if the driver has two or more of these “aggravating factors”: a prior qualified impaired driving incident within the previous 10 years, a BAC of .16 or greater, and/or the presence of a child at the time of the offense. Under Minnesota law, a conviction for second degree DWI may require a mandatory minimum sentence of either 30 or 90 days of incarceration (depending on the number of prior impaired driving incidents) or an intense program of supervision. Additionally, the motor vehicle involved in the incident may be subject to forfeiture. 

First Degree (Felony) DWI

First Degree Driving While Impaired is a felony offense; a conviction can result in a prison (not a local jail) sentence. A felony conviction requires the court to sentence the defendant to three years in prison. However, this mandatory sentence may be — and frequently is — stayed (meaning that prison time is not actually served). If the prison sentence is stayed, a defendant must be sentenced to 180 days of local incarceration. Thirty of the 180 days must be served consecutively in a local jail, but a defendant may be eligible to serve the balance of time under an electronic home monitoring program. First Degree DWI  also brings the harsh collateral consequences of a felony conviction, such as vehicle forfeiture and loss of certain civil rights.

DWI Test Refusal

Minnesota’s implied consent law requires that drivers (or anyone operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle) submit to a chemical test of the blood, breath, or urine for the presence of alcohol or a controlled substance. However, testing can only be required if a police officer has probable cause to suspect that the person was driving, operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle. Refusing a lawful demand for testing is a gross misdemeanor crime. Your driver's license will be revoked for a period of one year if you refuse.

Defenses to Test Refusal

But, there are many defenses to refusing a test of your blood, breath or urine for alcohol or drugs. Many of the defenses that apply to DWI also apply to test refusal. For instance, if  the police officer didn't have probable cause to arrest a suspect, then the test demand was unlawful and can't be used as evidence in the DWI case. Additionally, if the arresting officer misled the suspect about his or her legal rights when the officer demanded the test, then refusing the test may be considered reasonable and therefore not a crime.

If you refused to submit to a test request for alcohol or drugs, then you need to speak with a reputable Minnesota criminal defense lawyer now! Your ability to challenge your driver's license revocation is limited. Delaying will not make the charges or sanctions go away, but may jeopardize your rights and your lawyer's ability to properly investigate your case.

Consequences of a DWI Conviction in Minnesota

A drunk driving defense attorney can improve your odds of avoiding the harsh consequences of a DWI conviction. The Balmer Law Office provides free, confidential case evaluations via its 24-hour hotline: 612-326-4175.

Financial Consequences

In addition to the fine imposed in a conviction for a DWI there are many other financial consequences:

  • Loss of job / loss of professional license — invaluable
  • Costs of alternative transportation — hundreds, maybe thousands
  • Forfeiture of vehicle — thousands
  • License reinstatement fee — currently $680
  • Alcohol assessment fee — $300–$1,000
  • Probation / jail fees — hundreds
  • Increased automobile insurance costs — thousands over the course of the following decade
  • Increased life insurance premiums

A knowledgeable Minnesota defense attorney can help you evaluate your case and improve your odds of avoiding the harsh consequences of a DWI conviction. The Balmer Law Office provides free, confidential case evaluations via its 24-hour hotline: 612-326-4175.

Administrative Consequences (License Revocation and Vehicle Forfeiture)

The following administrative consequences follow an arrest for DWI. A Minnesota DWI / DUI lawyer can challenge these consequences in a civil judicial hearing that is independent of the criminal proceedings. The administrative consequences of a DWI have complicated and critical timing requirements.  A knowledgeable Minnesota attorney can help you navigate this process and avoid these harsh administrative consequences.

Driver's License Revocation

Following arrest for DWI and either a test failure or test refusal, your driver’s license will be automatically revoked. The revocation period will depend on a variety of factors: your prior DWI history, your BAC, your age, or other aggravating factors. Depending upon your individual circumstances, you may be able to obtain a limited license for driving to work, school, or abstinence-based support groups.

Revocation of Boating and ATV / Snowmobile Operating Privileges

The statute known as Little Alan's Law, effective August 1, 2018, now requires the revocation of boating, ATV, and snowmobile operating privileges upon the conviction for a DWI offense.  Previously, anyone convicted of a DWI in a highway-licensed vehicle could still operate boats, ATVs and snowmobiles. The new law now revokes operating privileges for all types of vehicles.   However, unlike the revocation of a driver’s license, where the revocation applies immediately upon test failure or refusal, the revocation for boating, ATV, and snowmobile privileges only applies upon conviction of a DWI offense.

License Plate Impoundment

License Plate Impoundment is a particularly harsh administrative penalty. Depending on your history and the circumstances of your arrest, your license plates may be impounded if:

  • you had a BAC of .16 or greater,
  • you have a prior DWI or alcohol-related driving offense within the previous 10 years,
  • there was a passenger under the age of 16 present in the vehicle, or
  • you were driving after your license was cancelled, regardless of alcohol impairment.

The vehicle used in the offense is subject to plate impoundment — and so are any vehicles jointly owned by the driver. “Whiskey” plates (plates beginning with the letter W) may be obtained (at an additional cost) if the driver(s) of the vehicle(s) has a valid license.

Vehicle Forfeiture

Vehicle forfeiture is the most severe administrative sanction. Under Minnesota law, a prosecutor may seize the motor vehicle used in the commission of a first or second degree DWI or test refusal, a DWI offense while the driver’s license is cancelled, or a DWI offense while the driver’s license is subject to a no-use provision (B-card).

A vehicle can be seized immediately upon the driver’s arrest for one of the above qualifying offenses — regardless of whether the driver was the lawful owner of the seized vehicle! Upon seizure the police must provide the driver and owner with a seizure notice. Minnesota law presumes that the vehicle seized is subject to forfeiture. In order to prevent forfeiture, the driver must take judicial action in civil court.

The administrative consequences of a DWI arrest are complicated. A knowledgeable Minnesota defense attorney can assist you in avoiding or limiting these harsh consequences.

Other Consequences of a DWI Conviction

One of the most important consequences of a DWI conviction is the enhancement effect for future offenses. In plain language, this means that any subsequent offense will be treated more harshly if it occurs within 10 years of a previous DWI or alcohol-related driving conviction. So a misdemeanor offense will become a gross misdemeanor if it is the second conviction within 10 years; the third offense within a 10-year window is also a gross misdemeanor, but carries additional mandatory minimum sentences; the fourth offense within a 10-year window is charged as a felony.

A DWI conviction may also result in the loss of a professional driver’s license. And of course a conviction will make it more difficult to obtain employment — especially for any position that may require the use of a vehicle as part of your regular duties.

Contact the Balmer Law Office — Minnesota DUI Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been arrested, charged, or questioned about a DWI offense, contact the Balmer Law Office for a free, confidential case evaluation. The Balmer Law Office is available via its 24-hour hotline: 612-326-4175.

David Balmer

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David Balmer established the Balmer Law Office with one overriding goal: provide aggressive, high-caliber criminal and DWI defense for good people facing serious charges throughout the state of Minnesota. Read More

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