Gross Misdemeanor DWI/DUIs in Minnesota: What You Should Know



DWI LawyerWhereas Minnesota’s DUI/DWI law formerly stipulated that an individual with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20 may be charged with and sentenced to a gross misdemeanor, in June 2015, the legislature lowered the BAC threshold for a gross misdemeanor to .16. Of particular interest for those who may be considering drinking and driving is that criminal penalties and bail requirements are harsher for gross misdemeanors.

The stricter gross misdemeanor DWI / DUI law is a result of the state’s desire to deter driving while intoxicated and/or under the influence, particularly with a high BAC level because of the increased incidence of serious and/or fatal automobile accidents which result from higher BAC levels. Minnesota also hopes to reduce recidivism with harsher penalties.

There are several different Minnesota DUI/DWI laws that result in gross misdemeanor charges and both criminal and administrative sanctions.

A second offense

Motorists with a BAC level less than .16 who are arrested and convicted for a second offense will face gross misdemeanor penalties which may include:

  • Up to one (1) year in jail
  • A fine of up to $3,000
  • Impounded license plates
  • A suspended driver’s license for one (1) year OR requirement for an IID for one (1) year

Having a BAC of .16 or greater

Criminal penalties may include up to one (1) year in jail and/or a fine of up to $3,000. The defendant may also be subject to administrative sanctions such as:

  • Loss of driving privileges
  • The requirement for an ignition interlock device (IID) for two (2) years
  • Impounded license plates
  • Vehicle forfeiture

Having a child in the vehicle

An arrest and conviction for a DWI/DUI while a child was in the vehicle at the time result in the same criminal sanctions as above; however, the administrative sanctions increase to:

  • A suspended driver’s license for one (1) year OR the requirement for an IID for one (1) year
  • Impounded license plates
  • Vehicle forfeiture

Refusing a DWI/DUI test

Under the law, motorists may not refuse a breath alcohol content test (breathalyzer) if pulled over for a suspected DWI/DUI because of implied consent laws that come with obtaining a driver’s license and the fact that breath tests are neither painful nor intrusive, unlike blood tests. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that a motorist who refuses a blood test cannot face additional criminal charges and sanctions. Further, because an individual naturally exhales his/her breath with or without a test, there is no right of possession to air in one’s lungs.

Refusing a breathalyzer test is punishable by:

  • Up to one (1) year in jail
  • A fine of up to $3,000
  • A suspended driver’s license for one (1) year OR requirement for an IID for one (1) year
  • Impounded license plates
  • Vehicle forfeiture

A third offense and/or refusing a breath test

A third DWI/DUI is a gross misdemeanor regardless of the individual’s BAC level. Potential criminal sanctions include the same one (1) year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine as above; however, administrative sanctions are considerably harsher. They include:

  • Three (3) years with an IID and no positive tests for drugs and/or alcohol during the entire time
  • Enrollment and successful completion of a substance abuse treatment program
  • Impounded license plates
  • Vehicle forfeiture
  • A suspended driver’s license as “inimical to public safety”

Why the New Law?

Currently, Minnesota has the highest DWI/DUI recidivism rate at over 40 percent. In fact, one out of every seven licensed Minnesota drivers has at least one DWI/DUI. Lawmakers assert that the lower threshold will mainly target repeat offenders who typically have an average BAC of just over .16. According to the Star Tribune, lowering the gross misdemeanor threshold by .04 points could result in 3,000 more gross misdemeanor DWI/DUI’s per year—a whopping 71 percent increase.

For more information on Minnesota’s gross misdemeanor DWI/DUI laws, or if you or a loved one is facing charges under this statute, please contact us.

Disclaimer: The content of this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact Jennifer Speas to discuss the specifics of your case.