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If you are found guilty of a DWI in Minnesotayou're facing both significant criminal penalties and administrative sanctions.

What are the Criminal Penalties for DWI in Minnesota?

Minnesota's criminal law establishes four degrees of impaired driving:

The criminal penalties for a DWI offense in Minnesota are based upon the number of aggravating factors present at the time the crime is committed:

Number of Aggravating Factors Criminal Classification Maximum Penalty
none 4th Degree DWI, misdemeanor  $1,000 fine and/or 90 days jail
one 3rd Degree DWI, gross misdemeanor $3,000 fine and/or 1 year jail
two 2nd Degree DWI, gross misdemeanor  $3,000 fine and/or 1 year jail
three 1st Degree DWI, felony (fourth offense only)  seven years incarceration and/or $14,000 fine

Aggravating factors include:

  • a qualified prior impaired driving incident within ten years of the date of the new offense (see my Minnesota DWI mandatory minimum penalties page for those with prior DWI offenses);
  • an alcohol concentration of .16 or more as measured at the time, or within two hours of driving, operating or being in physical control of a motor vehicle; and
  • presence of a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle, if the child is more than 36 months younger than the offender.

Qualified prior driving incidents include both:

  • prior impaired driving convictions; and
  • prior impaired driving-related losses of license (implied consent revocations) or operating privileges.

For separate driving incidents within the preceding ten years involving any kind of motor vehicle, including passenger motor vehicle, Head Start bus, commercial motor vehicle, airplane, snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, off-road recreational vehicle, or motorboat in operation.

What are Minnesota's Administrative Penalties for DWI Offenses?

Separate from any criminal penalties that may arise from a DWI conviction, Minnesota law provides for three administrative sanctions that commence immediately upon arrest/testing:

(1) Administrative License Revocation (ALR)

Whenever the implied consent law is invoked during the arrest process, the person's driving privileges can be revoked immediately following any test failure or test refusal. The person is given a seven-day temporary license to drive before the revocation becomes effective. The period of license revocation is as follows:

  • 90 days for a person with no qualified prior impaired driving incident within the past ten years and no other aggravating factor was present in the current incident and the test result was below .16 (reduced to 30 days if the person is convicted and has no prior implied consent revocations or DWI convictions and the test result was below .16.)
  • six months if the person is under the age of 21 at the time of the offense and the test result was below .16
  • one year if the person refused to submit to the evidentiary chemical test of blood, breath, or urine (reduced to 90 days if the person is convicted of Test Refusal and had no prior implied consent revocations or DWI convictions) or if a person tests .16 or higher (with or without having a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle or if the person tests below .16 with a prior implied consent revocation or DWI conviction within ten years.
  • two years if the person tests .16 or higher with a prior implied consent revocation or DWI conviction within ten years
  • cancelled and denied indefinitely as inimical to public safety, pending an abstinence period of at least one year and rehabilitation for a third or more impaired driving violation within a ten year period or a fourth violation on record

The person may appeal the administrative license revocation/cancellation, either by filing a request for administrative review from the DPS or by filing a request for judicial review though the court.

(2) Administrative License Plate Impoundment

A plate impoundment violation is an impaired driving violation involving an aggravating factor, including and offense:

  • occurring within ten years of a qualified prior impaired driving violation
  • involving an alcohol concentration of .16 or more
  • having a child under the age of 16 present in the vehicle
  • occurring while the person's license has been cancelled as inimical to public safety

Plate impoundment applies to:

  • the vehicle used in the plate impoundment violation
  • any vehicle owned, registered, or leased in the name of the violator, whether alone or jointly.

A plate impoundment order is issued by the arresting officer at the time of arrest and is effective immediately. The officer also seizes the plates and issues a temporary vehicle permit that is valid for seven days (or 45 days if the violator is not the owner).

The minimum term of plate impoundment is one year, during which time the violator may not drive any motor vehicle unless the vehicle displays specially-coded plates and the person has a valid license to drive. The violator is also subject to certain restrictions when selling or acquiring a vehicle during the impoundment period.

Specially-coded license plates - signifying to law enforcement that the regular plates have been impounded for an impaired driving violation - may be issued for the vehicle(s) provided that:

  • the violator has a properly license substitute driver;
  • a member of the violator's household is validly licensed;
  • the violator has been validly relicensed; or
  • the owner is not the violator and is validly licensed.

It is a crime for a driver whose plates have been impounded to attempt to evade the plate impoundment law in certain specified ways, or for another person to enable such evasion.

(3) Administrative Vehicle Forfeiture

Minnesota's DWI law provides for vehicle forfeiture for a designated license revocation of designated offense, which is typically the third DWI violation within a ten-year period, though with one or more enhancing factors, a person's second-time or even first-time violation might qualify as well.

DWI law defines "designated license revocation" as a license revocation or commercial license disqualification for an implied consent violation within ten years of two or more qualified impaired driving incidents. The term "designated offense" includes a DWI violation in the first or second degree or involving a person whose drivers is cancelled as inimical to public safety or subject to abstinence (no use of alcohol or controlled substance) restrictions.

The law provides that the arresting officer may seize the vehicle an requires that the prosecuting authority serve notice to the owner(s) of the intent to forfeit. The forfeiture is conducted administratively, unless within 30 days the owner appeals the forfeiture action by filing for a judicial determination of the forfeiture.

A vehicle is subject to forfeiture under the law only if:

  • it was used in the commission of a designated offense and the driver was convicted of that offense or failed to appear at trial; or
  • it was used in conduct resulting in a designated license revocation and the driver either fails to seek administrative or judicial review of the revocation in a timely manner or the revocation is sustained upon review.

Other vehicles owned by the offender are not subject to forfeiture. As protection for an owner who is not the offender ("innocent owner"), the law states that a motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture only if the owner knew or should have known of the unlawful or intended use of the vehicle.

Following completion of the forfeiture, the arresting agency may keep the vehicle for its official use. However, the security interest or lease of the financial institution, if any, is protected, and the lien holder may choose to sell the vehicle at its own foreclosure sale or agree to a sale by the arresting agency. A proportionate share of the proceeds, after deduction of certain expenses, goes to the financial institution. The law provides similar protection to any innocent co-owner as well.

Arrested for DWI in Minnesota? Call me for a free Minnesota DWI legal consultation at 612-334-3342.