The holiday period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is a time for festivities, family and fun. Unfortunately, sometimes that fun leads to over-imbibing in alcohol, which can bring a quick end to the fun if you spend part of your holiday period in jail.
We at Farrish Johnson Law Office understand there are many opportunities to celebrate, with office parties, family events, football bowl game parties. But we want you to have a safe and happy holiday season, so here’s some advice about drinking and the consequences of DWI in Minnesota.
DWI Laws in Minnesota
First, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the DWI laws in Minnesota. As in most states, you can be charged with a DWI if your blood alcohol content is 0.08 percent. But that’s just a baseline number. If, for example, you are involved in a car accident and your blood alcohol registers at 0.06, you still could be charged with DWI if law enforcement and prosecutors feel your alcohol consumption was a contributing factor to the accident.
You also should know you can be charged with DWI for other driving infractions, including ones that don’t happen on a street or highway. Minnesota’s driving while impaired laws also apply to: motorboats in operation, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and off-road vehicles.
Minnesota also is an “implied consent” state, which means when you obtain your driver’s license, you in essence have consented to giving a breath or blood test. If you refuse to submit to a test, you will automatically be charged with a DWI and face the consequences, the same as if you failed the test.
An even lesser known fact is that you could be charged with a DWI even if you’re not driving your vehicle. Minnesotans have faced DWI charges when they were found in the driver’s seat of a car that wasn’t running and in the front lawn when the car was parked nearby and running. Courts have ruled that even the possibility of a person being “in control” of a motor vehicle when intoxicated is threat enough.
Minnesota lawmakers have determined protecting the citizenry from drunken drivers is an important obligation, so they have designated harsh and costly sanctions for DWI offenses.
Penalties for DWI in Minnesota come in two categories: administrative and criminal. Administrative penalties include revocation of driver’s license, impoundment of your vehicle’s plate and forfeiture of your vehicle. A first-time conviction in Minnesota if your blood alcohol level is 0.16 or less leads to a 90-day suspension of your driver’s license. That jumps to 1 year if your BAC is over 0.16. Those penalties get harsher with each succeeding conviction, rising to a 6-year cancellation and ban on reapplying for a fifth DWI conviction. These penalties increase greatly if you are in an accident that causes bodily harm, great bodily harm or death.
Criminal penalties also are costly, both in time and money. A first-time conviction with no other major violations is cause for 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. If you refuse the test and are convicted, you could face up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine. Aggravating circumstances, such as having a child under age 16 in your vehicle (remember, this could even mean on a snowmobile or ATV), make these penalties grow even harsher.
Judges also are likely to sentence you to a treatment programs, which sometimes can mitigate jail time, but you must pay the cost of that program, plus make the time commitment.
While all of these penalties are costly enough, you also likely will face consequences in your job or schooling. Losing your driver’s license for 90 days could leave you unable to perform your job, giving your employer reason to terminate you or at least suspend you for the duration of your punishment. Some courts may allow you to serve your jail time on weekends, but employers still are likely to take action such as placing you on probation or worse.
Students especially face extra consequences for a DWI arrest, let alone conviction. Most colleges and universities in Minnesota have their own disciplinary program, which often has to take place faster than the court system, so your punishment there could come while you still are dealing with your legal issues. Students often face suspension or expulsion for DWI convictions, especially if there are aggravating circumstances.
Know Your Numbers
If all these consequences have not scared you from drinking and driving over the holidays, it’s a good idea at least to know how much alcohol you can consume and still be considered safe to drive.
Several factors can go into how quickly alcohol is absorbed into your system and how quickly it dissipates from your blood, but in general, a man who weighs 160 pounds who drinks 3 beers, mixed drinks or glasses of wine will have a BAC of 0.07, just below the legal limit. At 240 pounds, a man can consume 4 drinks and stay below the limit. A woman at 160 pounds can consume only 2 drinks and stay below the legal limit and 3 drinks at 240 pounds. Still, it’s good to remember these are only the legal limits and you can get a DWI at lower numbers.
The alcohol will dissipate from your system at about 0.01 percentage point for every 40 minutes, which amounts to about an hour and a half for each drink for the 160 pound male, and even longer time for women.
Of course, it’s our recommendation that if you want to celebrate the holidays with alcohol, that you designate a driver or take a taxi to ensure you and your family don’t end the holidays on a tragic note. If you do get a DWI stop, contact us to ensure you get the best legal outcome.
This webpage contains general information and not legal advise. It is based on Minnesota law in effect at the time of writing. An attorney at Farrish Johnson Law Office, CHTD can advise you about how the law applies to your specific situation.