Frequently Asked Questions – DWI – Minnesota

Is it important to hire a lawyer in a DWI case?

Yes, it is worth fighting back after an arrest on suspicion of DWI in Minnesota. Why? For the person with no similar priors, they are looking at high insurance costs for the five years after a DWI arrest. The cost of hiring a good DWI defense lawyer is only a fraction of that cost.

In order to avoid the high-risk high premium auto insurance costs, all alcohol-related events must be removed or kept off the “driving record” kept by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. That means (1) making a legal challenge to the “implied consent” administrative license revocation; and (2) defending the criminal-DWI charge so that no alcohol-related conviction results – both. You only have 60 days from the date of the license revocation – in breath test cases normally the date of the arrest – within which to serve and file a challenge to the implied consent license revocation. You’ll need a lawyer’s help with that. If you do it on the 61st day, it won’t do any good. Even one day past 60 days and it will be too late.

You would be well advised to meet personally with a DWI defense lawyer to discuss the details of your case, as well as to learn some of the basic information about defending these cases. Gallagher offers a free one-hour initial consultation on cases like these. You are welcome to call him at (612) 333-1500. Keep in mind that time is of the essence in these cases.

When is the best time to retain a DWI defense attorney?

Realistically, this will not happen unless you retain a good criminal defense lawyer to help you, as soon as possible. Why ASAP? Because you have only 60 days from the date of the “implied consent” drivers license revocation to serve and file a legal challenge to it. You’ll need a good criminal defense attorney to help you with that. If you fail to do so in time, or fail to win that case, you will then have an “implied consent violation” on your drivers license record, with virtually all of the consequences of a DWI conviction other than jail and probation.

As for the criminal-DWI case, prosecutors generally don’t just give away favorable settlement offers to the defense without a reason. The reason they do, when they do, is a good defense issue identified by your lawyer, your criminal defense lawyer.

The reason the cop stopped you might be helpful to your case. But, only a criminal defense lawyer thoroughly reviewing your case will be able to determine if that is your best defense issue, or whether there are other, better issues.

Space Shuttle Challenger Debris
Space Shuttle Challenger Debris

In the typical DWI case, the arresting officer initiates both a criminal-DWI charge, including a summons to court, and also an “implied consent” administrative revocation of drivers license, based either on “test refusal” or “test” report of 0.08 or more. These are two, separate legal actions – one criminal and the other is claimed to be “civil.” (This is how they claim to avoid the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy.)

In Gallagher’s experience, most people are aware of the former (criminal DWI with court date) but totally unaware of the latter (administrative revocation of drivers license).

What is at stake in a typical first-time DUI – DWI case?

The first question to ask is “what is at stake?” in any particular legal matter. In a case with no accident or other aggravating factors, the defendant is unlikely to be sentenced to much, if any, executed jail time. But, having an alcohol-related event on your drivers license record can cost many thousands of dollars, month after month, year after year. Major increased expenses include, not only high risk auto insurance premiums for minimal coverage, but also numerous fines and fees, and costs related to having a criminal conviction record, a alcohol-related drivers license revocation. These include impacts on employment, health insurance, etc.

It is possible to retain a good DWI defense lawyer, challenge in court the administrative revocation of your drivers license if done within 60 days, get that rescinded off your drivers license record, and avoid an alcohol-related conviction. If done, this could save you thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars over a five-year period alone. DWI laws today are complex. Only an experienced, motivated DWI defense lawyer can help you effectively fight and win one of these cases.  Gallagher has helped clients do this many times.

Without a good DWI defense lawyer you have virtually no chance of winning, in that way. You can’t win unless you try to win.

A typical first time DWI case usually involves two legal cases: the drivers license “implied consent” license revocation; and second, the DWI-criminal case.

The implied consent law is set up so that you automatically lose unless you (your lawyer) files a court challenge within 60 days. If you do, only then will you get a hearing in court in that case. There are many, expensive, consequences of having a an implied consent DWI violation on your drivers license record.

In the other case, the criminal DWI case, most first time DWI criminal charges are misdemeanors, with a 90 and $1,000 maximum penalty, but generally close to no jail time executed and several conditions of probation.

What about cases where the person has a prior alcohol-related incident within ten years?

The look-back period for purposes of charges enhancement and mandatory minimum sentencing in Minnesota criminal DWI cases is currently ten years. If the date of the conviction (usually the date of the guilty plea) was within ten years of the date of the new alleged DWI incident, then the prosecutor in the new case can be expected to allege an enhanced Gross Misdemeanor charge (maximum one year jail), based on the prior, as well as a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days.

The administrative revocation of drivers license under the “implied consent” statute, would also be longer and worse with a prior.

DUI vs DWI – What is the difference?

DUI can be an acronym for “driving under the influence.” DWI can be short for “driving while impaired.” In Minnesota there is no difference.  Both are abbreviations referring to Minnesota Statutes Chapter 169A, entitled “driving while impaired.” While “DWI” seems to better reflect this Chapter of Minnesota Statutes, “DUI” is more commonly used throughout the United States.  Since there is no distinction in Minnesota, here either term may be used interchangeably.