Minnesota law enforcement officers arrest about 25,000 DWI offenders each year. And 77% of these charges result in DWI convictions. This is why hiring a DWI defense attorney is a must after you’re charged with drunk driving.
Before about 1990, a Minnesota DWI was little more than a rather serious traffic ticket. In fact, many Brainerd officers just gave intoxicated motorists a warning. But since then, and even more so since the early 2010s, authorities have gotten tough on DWIs, in both the field and the courthouse. Judges have authorized many new tools, like roadside checkpoints, that have increased the number of arrests. People do not even have to be “driving” a vehicle to be arrested for Driving While Intoxicated.
Faced with these situations, hiring a DWI lawyer in Brainerd MN is a no-brainer. A good criminal attorney will know the DWI defense strategies that will work in your case.
What Does DWI Mean in Minnesota?
In Minnesota, DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated. Law enforcement would consider you intoxicated if you’re operating a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher.
Minnesota distinguishes between four degrees of DWIs:
- Fourth Degree: first-time offenders with no aggravating factors and offenders without DWI convictions in the last ten years with no aggravating factors
- Third Degree: first-time offenders with one aggravating factor and second-time offenders
- Second Degree: first-time offenders with two aggravating factors and third-time offenders
- First Degree: offenders who receive four DWI convictions within 10 years or second-time DWI felony offenders
Fourth-degree DWI offenses are misdemeanors. Third- and second-degree offenses are gross misdemeanors. And fifth-degree DWI convictions are felonies.
By now, you may be wondering: what is an aggravating factor? Driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 or higher and having a child aged 16 or younger in the car are aggravating factors for DWI in Minnesota.
DUI vs. DWI in Minnesota
DUI and DWI are two different ways officers can charge people for driving intoxicated. With a DUI, a law enforcement officer must see the driver swerving, weaving, driving too fast, or showing other outward manifestations of intoxication.
DWIs are much simpler to prove. Offenders could be driving perfectly, hit a roadblock, blow a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher, and receive a DWI. All that matters is that the blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit, not that the driver appears to be intoxicated.
However, for conviction purposes, you can think of DWIs and DUIs as essentially the same.
Why You Should Contest Your DWI in Brainerd MN
Some people think that if they are guilty of DWI, there’s no point in fighting the case. Many times, it’s better to accept the inevitable and get it over with. But a criminal case is usually not one of these times. Even if you think you are guilty, perhaps because you failed a chemical test, you might not be legally guilty. More than likely, there is at least one defense that could either significantly reduce the punishment or prompt the judge to throw the case out of court.
Lawmakers have changed the DWI law, so it is much easier to obtain convictions. Before about 2000, a chemical test was only evidence of intoxication. Now, defendants who have a BAC above the legal limit are intoxicated as a matter of law. As a result, in many jurisdictions, about half the probationers were convicted of DWI. The offense is so serious, especially when considering the direct and collateral consequences, that you could really benefit by getting a DWI Lawyer.
What Is at Stake in a Minnesota DWI?
DWIs in Minnesota can cost up to $10,000. This includes things like tow and impound fees for your vehicle (at least $150) and attorney fees ($1,000–$5,000 for a case that doesn’t go to trial). But it doesn’t include things like the cost for bail, which can reach up to $12,000 for prior offenders.
Yet, the high cost of DWIs isn’t the only thing at stake when you’re convicted. You risk probation, fees, loss of driver’s privileges, prison time, and more.
Lengthy court supervision and substantial cost are the two biggest direct consequences of this offense. For fourth-degree DWI, which is a first offense, the average Crow Wing County probation length is two years. The average supervision periods increase for each subsequent charge, all the way up to seven years for first-degree DWI (fourth or subsequent offense).
Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay probation fees, too. In Brainerd, probation fees range anywhere from $150–$250.
There is a substantial cost as well, and the high fine is just the beginning. Typically, when considering fines, court costs, supervision fees, and higher insurance rates, the average cost for a first offense is about $10,000. With the help of a DWI lawyer in Brainerd MN, you have a chance to create the best defense against your charges.
Fines increase further if the offender has priors. For a second DWI conviction, a court can fine you up to $3,000, which is also the minimum fine for third-time offenses. Upon receiving a felony DWI, you could risk paying up to $14,000 in fines.
Many Minnesotans are surprised to learn that DWIs commonly incur jail and/or prison time. The exact sentence length depends on the number of priors and whether it’s a felony-level DWI. Here’s the breakdown:
- 1st Offense: For offenders with blood-alcohol levels under 0.16, the sentence is up to 90 days in jail. For offenders with blood-alcohol levels above 0.16, the penalty increases to up to 1 year in county jail.
- 2nd Offense: For second-time offenders with blood-alcohol levels under 0.16, the sentence is up to 90 days in jail. For second-time offenders with blood-alcohol levels above 0.16, the punishment increases to up to 1 year in county jail.
- 3rd Offense: Third-time offenders’ sentences are up to 1 year in county jail, regardless of blood-alcohol level.
- Felony Offense: A felony DWI can incur up to 7 years in federal prison.
Offenders who drive impaired and cause bodily harm or death to another party may receive a Criminal Vehicular Operation charge. A conviction for this charge could result in up to a 10-year prison sentence.
Higher Insurance Premiums
Those higher insurance premiums are the most expensive consequence. Most people must obtain high risk SR-22 insurance. In some cases, that may increase your rates by over 60 percent. The higher rate usually remains in force for three years. Afterwards, drivers can shop around for other insurance. But there is no guarantee that their rates will drop substantially.
Drivers’ License Suspension
A DWI conviction can also mean lengthy drivers’ license suspension. That suspension can be up to one year for a first-time offense. Second-time DWI offenders can lose driving privileges for up to two years. Three or more DWI offenses can lead to permanent driver’s license suspension.
Sometimes, a lawyer can arrange a restricted drivers’ license that includes an ignition interlock device. With an ignition interlock device, the offender can regain his or her driving privileges immediately.
Receiving a DWI gross misdemeanor (i.e., driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 or higher) automatically qualifies for an ignition interlock device. The same is true of second-time DWI offenders. If an offender with prior DWIs receives a third or greater offense, the court will order an ignition interlock device for up to six years.
Many Minnesotans depend heavily on their vehicles. So, this possibility alone is a good reason for you to get a DWI lawyer in Brainerd.
Further, there are costs associated with reinstating your driver’s license and getting an ignition interlock device. To challenge your driving restrictions, you must pay $320 to file the motion, attorney fees, and $700 to get your license officially reinstated. Then, your ignition interlock device will cost an additional $125 per month.
Lost Employment Opportunities
When you’re convicted of a DWI in Minnesota, it stays on your record for 10 years. Employers that run background checks will see your prior conviction(s), which could affect your hireability. For example, the following jobs generally won’t employ people with DWI priors:
- Pipeline and transit jobs
- Railroad jobs
- Trucking jobs
- Aviation jobs
- Maritime jobs
Teachers, nurses, and doctors may also be negatively affected by DWI convictions. So, if you don’t want to lose your job, it’s absolutely critical to speak to a DWI defense attorney near you.
How Can a DWI Lawyer in Brainerd MN Help Me?
The criminal law system is more like a process. Defendants go from one stage to the next. A Brainerd DWI lawyer provides help at every stage of this process. If you don’t have a DWI lawyer in Brainerd, you are on your own. People in this situation can fight the power and rage against the machine as much as they want. But their criminal cases usually end very badly.
Jail Release in Brainerd, MN
In many misdemeanors, jail release is not much of an issue. The judge gives the defendant a few days in jail, and the case ends. DWI is a lot different. A jail sentence would be a few weeks or months as opposed to a few days. Furthermore, a jail sentence could mean long-term drivers’ license suspension.
Most DWIs are nonviolent misdemeanors. Therefore, jail release usually is not much of a problem. In fact, OR (Own Recognizance) pretrial release might be an option. OR release programs vary. Usually, however, if the defendant pays a small administrative fee and promises to abide by release conditions, the sheriff releases the defendant.
Conditions of Release
These conditions include more than showing up at trial. Most defendants must remain in the county at all times and report monthly to a supervision officer. Additionally, most DWI defendants must have IIDs in their vehicles.
An Ignition Interlock Device is basically a Breathalyzer that’s connected to the ignition. If a specimen is over the limit, which is usually .04, the vehicle won’t start the next time someone turns the key.
Repeat or aggravated DWI is much different. There is basically a presumption that these defendants are a threat to public safety. Therefore, officials only grant bail in limited circumstances.
Bail Factors in Brainerd
A Brainerd DWI lawyer goes to bat for defendants in these situations. At the arraignment hearing, judges consider a wide range of bail factors, such as the defendant’s:
- Criminal record,
- Ability to pay,
- Threat to the public, and
- Connections to the community.
Jail release is important in a criminal case. Most people, including most jurors, subconsciously assume that people in jail did something wrong.
Selecting the Right Brainerd DWI Lawyer
Unless the case is quite complex, as outlined above, an attorney search process usually begins in earnest after the jail release phase.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel in all criminal cases, including misdemeanor DWI. However, this provision does not guarantee the right to free counsel. Crow Wing County has an excellent public defender’s office. It is large enough to have ample resources, and yet small enough so the attorneys are not overworked.
For the most part, individual judges have their own rules as to when the public defender is available. Many judges reason, correctly or incorrectly, that if the defendant can afford to make bail, the defendant can afford an attorney. So, a public defender may be unavailable except in jail cases. That probably means that you need a DWI lawyer in Brainerd.
Crow Wing County Criminal Defense Lawyers
In many ways, Crow Wing County criminal defense lawyers are the same. But there are some very important differences as well, such as:
- Experience: Years of experience are important. But this figure is often deceptive. Many criminal defense lawyers have little trial experience. Instead, they fall into a pattern of accepting the state’s first offer. No one wants an attorney who always looks for the easy way out.
- Dedication: Successful criminal defense lawyers are passionate about individual rights. They don’t practice criminal defense as a sideshow or just take a few cases for friends and family.
- Accessibility: Goldilocks sought a dinner, chair, and bed that was neither too hot nor too cold. You do not want a lawyer who is too busy to give your case the attention it deserves. You also don’t want a lawyer who sits in the office and waits for your call.
Choosing the right Brainerd DWI lawyer might be the most important decision you ever make. But don’t shop around for too long. The faster you make a good decision, the sooner your lawyer starts working for you.
Pretrial Defenses in Brainard MN
The vast majority of Minnesota DWI cases do not go to trial. Instead, an attorney negotiates a plea bargain with the prosecutor. Usually, that agreement includes probation.
Additionally, Crow Wing County is rather unique in that prosecutors allow defendants to plead guilty to reckless driving, especially in borderline cases. Section 169.13 is a misdemeanor, like both third and fourth-degree DWI. However, reckless driving does not have many of the same collateral consequences. A reckless driving conviction probably means higher auto insurance rates, but they may not be as high. Furthermore, there is no drivers’ license suspension or ignition interlock requirement.
However, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Prosecutors only offer sweet deals like reckless driving if there are serious problems with the evidence. If that’s true, many prosecutors would rather secure convictions for lesser-included offenses than having an additional L on their win-loss records. At the pretrial stage, Brainers DWI lawyers usually concentrate on procedural defenses, such as:
- No Reasonable Suspicion: This drunk driving defense is especially common in roadside checkpoint matters. Officers don’t need reasonable suspicion, which is basically an evidence-based hinch, to detain motorists at DWI roadblocks. However, these checkpoints must meet specific legal requirements, mostly regarding the checkpoint’s setup and operation. A failure in any area could invalidate the checkpoint and therefore the stop.
- Failure to Warn: When officers demand breath or blood samples, they must administer statutory warnings. There could be several issues in this area. Many statutory warnings are mostly Legalese and difficult to understand, especially if, as the state claims, the person was intoxicated at the time. Furthermore, the officer who reads these rights must normally speak the defendant’s language. An officer who speaks, reads, and writes only English cannot warn non-English speakers of the test consequences, even if the words are in the defendant’s language.
- Failure to Mirandize: All criminal defendants are entitled to these general warnings, such as the right to remain silent. Officers must administer these warnings before custodial interrogation begins. “Custody” means the defendant does not feel free to leave. Arguably, therefore, officers should definitely administer these warnings before they ask the defendant if s/he has been drinking.
- Technical Chemical Test Issues: Today’s Breathalyzers are extremely sophisticated and sensitive devices. They require regular maintenance from qualified professionals. Judges have thrown out dozens of cases, or even hundreds of cases, because of technical Breathalyzer flaws.
An experienced DWI defense attorney can evaluate this evidence in a case and provide you with your best options. In other words, it’s not necessarily a good idea to jump at a wet reckless plea. If the evidence is especially weak, a trial may be in your best interests.
DWI Trial Defenses in Brainard MN
There are basically two kinds of DWI trials, at least from an evidence standpoint. Test cases rely on, wait for it, chemical test results. Non-test cases usually hinge on the approved Field Sobriety Tests.
The burden of proof is the same in both kinds of trials. Prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Minnesota courts have a not-very-helpful definition of reasonable doubt. “The jury has a high degree of certainty about the defendant’s guilt, although they need not be 100 percent convinced.”
An Example of the Need for Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
If Oscar drives a grey Silverado and a grey Silverado is in a bar parking lot, Oscar is probably inside. But that evidence is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Lots of people drive grey Silverados. Moreover, even if the license plate number matches, Oscar’s son, who frequently borrows his dad’s pickup, could be the person in the store.
Almost all DWI cases involve Breathalyzer tests. Police officers only administer blood tests in limited situations. And, although they have a Constitutional right to refuse, most people voluntarily provide samples.
Challenging Breathalyzer Test Results in Brainard and Crow Wing County
Contrary to popular myth, a Brainerd DWI lawyer can successfully challenge Breathalyzer test results. We discussed some technical flaws above. Now, let’s look at some scientific flaws. Some possible issues include:
- Mouth Alcohol: If the defendant burps, vomits, or belches in the fifteen minutes prior to the test, alcohol particles from the stomach rush into the mouth and skew the results. Officers are supposed to watch subjects closely in the fifteen minutes before they test. But the law doesn’t enforce this monitoring period very closely.
- Temperature Issues: As mentioned, Breathalyzers are very sensitive instruments. They are particularly sensitive to air temperature changes. The mercury often rises or falls quickly in Minnesota. Body temperature could be a factor as well. A 1.8-degree fever, which is probably not high enough to call in sick, could affect Breathalyzer results by 7 percent.
- Ketone Levels: The liver secretes ketones to convert glucose into energy. Diabetics usually have very high ketone levels. So do smokers and certain dieters. Most Breathalyzers read ketones as ethanol. Therefore, in many situations, the Breathalyzer result is artificially high.
To point out these flaws to jurors, especially in a .08, .09, or other borderline BAC case, Brainerd DWI lawyers often partner with degreed chemists. Such professionals are much more credible than the Breathalyzer techs whom prosecutors usually rely on.
No-Evidence DWI Cases
Other test cases are no-evidence cases. There is no evidence, or a clear lack of evidence, on a non-driving element.
Now assume Oscar met his son Felix at the bar. They both get drunk. On the way home, Oscar rear-ends Jack. By the time officers arrive, both Oscar and Jack have exited the vehicle. Unless a credible eyewitness saw Oscar behind the wheel, prosecutors would be hard pressed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was driving the truck.
Call Today to Speak With a Brainerd DWI Lawyer at Carlson & Jones
If you’re ever charged with driving under the influence, your first call should be to a DWI lawyer in Brainerd. Experienced criminal attorneys know the pretrial and trial DWI defense strategies to get your charges dropped.
Have you been arrested for a DWI in Minnesota? Because of the serious nature of a DWI, you need a serious lawyer. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Brainerd, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.
Originally published on June 17, 2021 and updated on October 21, 2021.