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What Constitutes a Felony DWI in Minnesota?


In Minnesota, a "felony" is defined as any crime for which incarceration of more than one year may be imposed. Under Minnesota's felony DWI law, a person who commits first-degree DWI is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to:

  • imprisonment for not more than seven years (or more than seven years if the person has other prior criminal history);
  • a fine of not more than $14,000;
  • or both.

A person is guilty of first-degree DWI if the person violates DWI law:

  • within ten years of three or more qualified prior impaired driving incidents (defined as prior convictions or license revocations for separate impaired driving incidents); or
  • has previously been convicted of a felony DWI crime (i.e. once a felon, always a felon).

Unlike non-felony DWI crimes, being arrested with a high alcohol concentration (.20 or more) and child endangerment are not defined as aggravating factors for felony DWI; instead, only qualified prior impaired driving incidents are considered.

When sentencing a person for felony DWI, the court:

  • must impose a sentence to imprisonment for not less than three years; and
  • may stay execution of this mandatory sentence, but may not stay imposition of this sentence or sentence the person to less than three years imprisonment.

A person sentenced to incarceration in prison for felony DWI is not eligible for early release unless the person has successfully completed a chemical dependency treatment program while in prison.

The court must also order that after a felony DWI offender is released from prison, the person must be placed on conditional release for five years, under any conditions that the commissioner of corrections opts to impose, including an intensive probation program for repeat DWI offenders. If the person fails to comply with the conditions of release, the commissioner may revoke it and return the person to prison.

If the court stays execution of the mandatory prison sentence, then it must apply the mandatory penalties for non-felony DWI offenses (jail and/or intensive probation) and must order as well that the person submit to long-term alcohol monitoring and the level of treatment prescribed in the chemical dependency assessment. If the person violates any condition of probation, the court may order that the stayed prison sentence be executed.

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines recommend a stayed sentence of 36 months, 42 months, and 48 months for a felony DWI conviction for a person with zero, one, or two criminal history "points" respectively, and they specify a presumptive commit-to-prison for a person with a criminal history score of three or more.

To illustrate, a person convicted of felony DWI who has seven qualified prior impaired driving incidents within the past ten years, but no other criminal convictions, would likely reach the threshold for a presumptive commit-to-prison as follows:

  • three of those prior offenses are used to establish the basis for enhancing the current DWI offense to a felony-level crime (but these cannot also be used to determine the person's criminal history score).
  • the other four prior offenses (provided they involved DWI convictions) count as one-half criminal history point each, for a total of two points.
  • one criminal history point (a custody status point) would result from the current impaired driving incident occurring while the person is on probation for a prior impaired driving incident, as would almost certainly be the case in this example.

Accordingly, this offender would have a criminal history score of three when facing sentencing on the current felony-level DWI offense; the person's presumptive sentence under the sentencing guidelines would be to commit to prison for 54 months. With one less qualified prior incident within the preceding ten years, the guidelines would call for a presumptive stayed sentence of 48 months.

For more info, see my drunk driving penalties page and mandatory minimums page.

If you are facing a felony DWI charge in Minnesota, you need an experienced legal defense counsel to help protect you. Call me for a free Minnesota DWI legal consultation at 612-334-3342.

Douglas V. Hazelton, Attorney at Law

7900 Xerxes Avenue South
Bloomington, MN 55431
Phone: 612-334-3342

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