Change in DWI Law - A Risk to Veterans

Driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or over is a violation of Minnesota’s DWI laws. A first-offense DWI is a misdemeanor, however the presence of aggravating factors enhances the charge level, which then increases the punishment. Misdemeanors are punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Gross Misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail, a $3,000 fine, or both.

Minnesota law defines three aggravating factors which can enhance a DWI, and lead to a more serious charge. These aggravating factors are:

  • a qualified prior impaired driving incident within the ten years immediately preceding the current offense;
  • having an alcohol concentration of 0.16 or more as measured at the time, or within two hours of the time, of the offense; or
  • having a child under the age of 16 in the motor vehicle at the time of the offense if the child is more than 36 months younger than the offender.

On August 1, 2015, the legislature changed one of the aggravating factors associated with DWI charge levels. The change affected the second factor, lowering the alcohol concentration threshold from .20 to .16. This in turn will put a lot more people at risk for being charged and convicted of higher level DWI charges, even for first-offenders.

There is one group that will especially be affected, as they account for a large percentage of DWIs in Minnesota – veterans. Due to traumatic combat experiences that can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), veterans commonly self-medicate with alcohol, which can then lead to driving under the influence. This new change will increase the risk of veterans being charged and convicted of more serious charges associated with DWIs.

Not only does a higher level DWI conviction bring a risk of larger fines and longer jail sentences, it also affects a person’s life post-conviction. For example, the presence of criminal convictions on a criminal record could affect one’s employment or housing in a negative manner. Additionally, misdemeanor charges are eligible for expungement after two years assuming there were no other criminal convictions. However, gross misdemeanor charges are not eligible until four years after the conviction. Therefore, the burdens associated with this change will effect more people for longer periods of time.

If you have any questions or concerns about a DWI, contact one of our attorneys for a consultation at (612) 979-1112.