Speeding Laws in Minnesota

Traffic tickets: How to fight a speeding ticket in Minnesota

Reasonable and prudent standard:  Minnesota law says “no person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions. … In every event speed shall be so restricted as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle, or other conveyance…”  Minnesota Statutes Section 169.14, subd. 1.

Two types of speed limits: statutory and posted

Speed limit signs giving drivers notice of a speed limit must comply with the Minnesota Manual on Traffic Control Devices, which has the effect of law, via Minnesota Rules and statutory incorporation.

Statutory speed limits may be asserted according to certain statutes, even where not posted, for example Minnesota Statutes Sections 169.14, subd. 2; 327.27, subds. 2 & 2a; 327.27, subd. 2.

Driving Over Speed Limit is Not Necessarily Unlawful

RADAR LEO SpeedingPrima facie evidence:  The general rule is that a speed in excess of the speed limit is only prima facie evidence that such a speed is not reasonable and prudent. Minnesota Statutes Section 169.14, subd. 2.  The violation or crime is generally not “driving faster than the speed limit” but rather driving “at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions.”  Prima facie evidence is evidence that on its face is sufficient to support an inference of guilt, even though it might not preclude an inference of innocence.  The party with the burden of proving guilt – in this case the government – must at least admit evidence sufficient to meet its prima facie burden of going forward or the judge will dismiss the charge.  Prima facie evidence is not proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for conviction.  Proof beyond a reasonable doubt means that if the evidence allows for a reasonable inference of innocence, a not-guilty verdict is required.  Prima facie evidence can be rebutted by the defense.

In a municipality, Minnesota statutes more recently purport to make any speed in excess of the speed limit presumptively unlawful (presumptively enough to convict). Minnesota Statutes Section 169.14, subd. 2.  Even though rebuttable, such presumptions are generally held to be an unconstitutional shifting of the burden of proof, off of the prosecutor on to the defendant.  It’s possible be that courts might be more tolerant of this statutory burden shifting in petty misdemeanor cases.  (Most speeding tickets are petty misdemeanor violations, not misdemeanor crimes.)

Penalties for Speeding Violations

The courts view penalties as being of two kinds: direct and collateral.  Direct penalties if adjudicated guilty of a speed law violation are either a non-criminal, petty misdemeanor “civil infraction,” with a fine only; or, a misdemeanor criminal conviction with arrest and jail a possibility.

Adjudicated violations of the speed law are Petty Misdemeanors (fine only), unless it was found by a Judge to have endangered person or property (then a misdemeanor).  A third or subsequent speed law violation within twelve months is a Misdemeanor (up to $1,000 fine and 90 days jail).  Minnesota Statutes Section 169.89, subd. 1

Drivers License Revocation or Suspension

Collateral, or indirect, penalties for speed violations include the notation of violation on the drivers license (DL) record, increased insurance premiums or loss of insurance, and potential loss of drivers license (DL).

A driver’s license can be revoked for six months if adjudicated in violation for driving over 100 m.p.h.

A third petty misdemeanor in a year can be charged as a misdemeanor, and a third misdemeanor in a year (a fifth in two years) can result in license revocation.  Minnesota does not use a point system, like some other states.

Keeping Your Drivers License Record Clean

A clean DL record is valuable.  It can make the difference between police officer discretion breaking your way, or against you.  How can you keep your record clean, assuming you already have received a speeding ticket in Minnesota?

1.  Dimler Amendment:  A law adopted in 1986, called the Dimler amendment (its author was former Minnesota Representative Chuck Dimler), determines which speeding violations are recorded on the DL record.  The Minnesota Department of Public Safety maintains the record.  Speeding violations are do not go on the DL record if:

  • 10 mph above the speed limit (or less) in a 55 m.p.h. zone; or
  •  5 mph above the speed limit (or less) in a 60 m.p.h. zone.

The prohibition on recording a violation on the DL record doesn’t apply if the speed limit certified is 65 or 70 mph.  Caution: despite rumor, there is no “ten over” exception in Minnesota law.  The Dimler law currently only applies in 55 and 60 m.p.h. zones (10 over in a 55 mph zone, but 5 over in a 60 mph zone.) 

The Dimler amendment provisions do not apply if the speeding violation is certified to have occurred in a commercial motor vehicle or if the driver has a commercial DL (class A, B, or C).  Minn. Stat. § 171.12, subd. 6.  Gallagher has heard of a case where it did not work for an person with a DL from another State.  Works for Minnesota licensed drivers.

2.  Continuance for Dismissal:  The prosecutor can agree to continue the speeding charge for some period of time, for example 12 months, on various conditions.  Under this kind of agreement, at the end of the period, if all conditions have been met, the charge is dismissed by court administration as agreed.  No guilty plea is offered.  No adjudication is made.  So, nothing is certified by court administration to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, as a result.  Typical conditions include payment of prosecution and court costs (instead of a fine), and no same or similar violations.  There are many local variations on the term used for this outcome, though functionally equivalent.  Other terms commonly used include: Agreement to Suspend Prosecution, Deferred Prosecution, Continuance WithOut a Plea (CWOP).

3.  Local or City Ordinance violation citation, instead of state statute.  Police officers have discretion to cite drivers with a violation of a local or city Ordinance instead of a Minnesota State Statute.  If they do, you should be able to pay the fine, and still benefit from it not going on your State Drivers License Record.  This is nice, but usually this is something the police officer can, in his or her discretion, decide to do for you.  It’s less common for prosecutors to do this, though it is possible.  For more on this in Minneapolis, as an example, see Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer page.

4.  Stay of Adjudication.  Though less desirable than any of the above, a stay of adjudication will prevent the Court Administrator from certifying the traffic violation to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which means it won’t go on the Minnesota Drivers License Record.  A stay of adjudication involves either a guilty plea, or a finding of guilty after a trial, but the judge staying (delaying) adjudication of guilt upon conditions, for some period of time.  If the person does not violate a condition, it never becomes an adjudicated violation or conviction, and so never gets certified by court administration to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to go on the DL record.  Typical conditions include payment of money to the court, and no same or similar violations.  In criminal cases, a judge will be reluctant to give a stay of adjudication without prosecutor approval (or finding an abuse of prosecutorial discretion) but in petty misdemeanor traffic cases judges are more willing despite prosecution opposition.

There are a couple other ways, less commonly done.

Defenses to Speeding Charges

There are many potential defenses to a speeding charge.  Most people who get speeding tickets have a clean record over the previous five years.  This is favorable.  A person with a clean record has a better chance of getting an outcome such as the ones described above, that should keep their DL record clean – though at a cost in money and perhaps time as well.

The Rookie mistake is to focus on defenses rather than a practical focus on the desired outcome.  Keep your eye on the prize.  Justice is not perfect in our imperfect world.  The laws are enforced and administered by humans.  If you are wrongly accused of a traffic offense, despite the indignity of being falsely accused, it may be better to be willing to pay to keep it off your DL record – even if you are innocent.  That said, here is some discussion of defenses.

1.  Reasonable and prudent.  Even if you were over the posted on the highway, was the speed reasonable and prudent?  Intent can play a role here as well.  Relevant factors could include road conditions, traffic conditions, incline, mechanical issues, etc.

2.  Passing.  It may be reasonable and prudent to exceed the posted limit in order to pass another vehicle.  In fact, it can be dangerous not to do so.  This defense is even more important for motorcyclists.

3.  Identity.  Police enforcing speed laws from the side of the road are taught that the proper way to conduct a speed trap with RADAR or LIDAR is with two police officers in two police squad cars.  One will operate the speed detection machine, and identify the vehicle he or she observes speeding.  The other operates the pursuit vehicle to make the traffic stop.  That way there is little chance of misidentification or the wrong vehicle.  But these days police cut corners and rarely do it the proper way.

4.  Excuse defenses.  Police squad cars with their light bar activated may be faster than reasonable and prudent, but be excused out of necessity.  How about the person driving a heart attack victim, or woman in labor, to the emergency room?

5.  Evidentiary issues.  Can the government show an evidentiary foundation for its speed evidence – pacer, RADAR, Lidar, etc?  Did the government properly comply with discovery statutes, after a request?

6.  Impossibility.  Did you see the news report about the State Trooper in a Helicopter with a stop watch who claimed a motorcyclist was traveling significantly faster than the maximum top speed for that motorcycle?  “Warp speed, Captain!”

7.  Actual speed within speed limit.  

8.  Many others.  There are multi-volume treatises in the law libraries of defenses to speeding tickets.  These are just a few.

Fight to Keep It Off Your Record.  It’s worth doing.