Minnesota’s DWI Laws and Conviction Penalties

The consequences of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DWI in Minnesota.

Like all states, Minnesota prohibits impaired driving. Minnesota's driving while impaired (DWI) laws prohibit operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs and/or alcohol. What constitutes impairment can vary depending on the type and quantity of substance ingested. Also, the definition of "driving" extends beyond what you might think.

This article outlines exactly how the law defines a DWI and the penalties a driver might face for a first, second, and third DWI conviction.

Minnesota's DWI Laws

Specifically, Minnesota prohibits the operation or actual physical control of a motor vehicle:

  • with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater
  • while under the influence of any controlled substance, drug, or alcohol, or
  • with any amount of a scheduled controlled substance (illegal drugs) in your system.

In other words, a DWI conviction can be based on the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system or proof of actual impairment.

What "Actual Physical Control" Means Under Minnesota's DWI Laws

Most DWI offenses involve a traffic stop where the officer observes the motorist driving. In these types of cases, there's no question that the motorist was operating the vehicle.

However, an impaired person can also be convicted of a DWI if he or she is in actual physical control of a vehicle. Actual physical control is defined as having the means to initiate movement of the vehicle and being in close proximity to the controls. Under this definition, a motorist can be convicted of a DWI without actually putting the vehicle in motion.

Proving "Under the Influence" for a DWI Offense in Minnesota

As previously noted, a driver can be convicted of a DWI based on the amount of drugs or alcohol in his or her system (called a "per se DWI") or actual impairment from drugs or alcohol.

Minnesota's Per Se DWI Standards

For per se DWI charges, the prosecution doesn't need to prove actual driver impairment. All the prosecution needs to prove is that the driver had either a BAC of .08% or more or any amount of an illicit controlled substance (such as cocaine or amphetamines) in his or her system.

Prosecutors normally use chemical test results (of the blood or breath in most cases) to prove per se DWI charges.

Typically, a driver who tests positive for marijuana or prescription medication (which they are lawfully prescribed) can't be convicted of a per se DWI charge.

Minnesota's Definition of Impairment

In some cases, the prosecution doesn't have chemical test results to prove a per se DWI charge. However, in these situations, prosecutors can still prove a DWI charge with evidence of actual driver impairment.

Under Minnesota law, a driver is considered to be "under the influence" when his or her mental or physical ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired to some degree. To prove impairment, prosecutors will generally use officer testimony related to observations during the DWI stop and, in some instances, expert testimony to explain the effects of certain substances.

Unlike with per se DWI charges, a driver can be convicted of a DWI based on marijuana or prescription drug impairment.

Penalties for a Misdemeanor DWI in Minnesota

The penalties for a DWI are set by statute and generally depend on the number of prior convictions the driver has within the last ten years.

Jail and Fines for Misdemeanor (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) Minnesota DWI Convictions

The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a first-, second-, and third-offense DWI conviction in Minnesota.

1st offense

2nd offense

3rd offense


Up to 90 days

30 days to 1 year

90 days to 1 year


Up to $1,000

Up to $3,000

Up to $3,000

Substance Abuse Evaluations for Minnesota DWI Offenders

Prior to sentencing for a DWI conviction, the offender must complete a drug and alcohol evaluation. The court will use the results to determine what program would best suit the offender. Offenders with prior convictions are required to complete the impaired driving repeat offender program, which typically includes random testing, treatment, and sobriety monitoring.

Minnesota DWI Probation

In most cases, the judge will place the offender on probation rather than impose the maximum jail term. During probation, the offender will have to abide by certain conditions, which might include substance abuse treatment and sobriety monitoring. Failure to comply with these conditions can result in jail time.

In many cases, the offender will have to serve some jail time prior to probationary release.

Aggravating Factors

The presence of certain aggravating factors can increase the penalties for a DWI conviction in Minnesota. These aggravating factors include having:

Using this system of aggravating factors, Minnesota categorizes DWI offenses by degree. There are four degrees of DWI, with first-degree being the most serious and fourth-degree being the least serious.

Penalties for a Felony DWI in Minnesota

An offender with at least three prior DWI convictions within the last ten years will be charged with a felony first-degree DWI.

A first-degree DWI carries three to seven years in prison and up to $14,000 in fines. After serving three years in prison, the offender will be placed on a five-year probation period and must complete the prison's chemical dependency program. Any future DWI charges within the driver's lifetime will also be considered a first-degree DWI.

License-Related Penalties for Minnesota DWI Offenses

Motorists caught driving under the influence will generally face driver's license penalties. The duration and type of license penalties will depend on the driver's record, BAC, and cooperation with law enforcement. When considering prior offenses for licensing penalties all prior test failures, test refusals, and DWI convictions are counted as qualified prior impaired driving incidents.

License-related penalties can result from a DWI arrest and/or conviction.

Minnesota's Implied Consent Law

Under Minnesota's "implied consent" law, all drivers who are arrested for DWI are deemed to have given consent to a chemical test of their breath, blood, or urine. These test results are often used at trial to prove driver impairment. Drivers who refuse to comply with a lawful test request generally face harsher penalties than they otherwise would.

Refusing a Chemical Test in Minnesota

When a driver refuses to take an alcohol or drug test as required by the implied consent law, the officer will send a report of the refusal to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The driver's license will be suspended for:

  • one year for a first offense
  • two years if the driver has one prior offense within the last ten years or two priors within the driver's lifetime
  • three years if the driver has two priors in the last ten years or three priors within the driver's lifetime
  • four years if the driver has three priors in the last ten years, and
  • six years if the driver has four priors within the driver's lifetime.

Also, prosecutors can usually use the fact that a driver refused testing in court while trying to prove a DWI charge.

License Revocation for DWI Convictions in Minnesota

The court will also order the driver's license to be suspended as part of a DWI conviction sentence. The period of suspension for a conviction is generally:

  • 90 days for a first offense (one year if BAC is .16% or more)
  • one year for a second offense in ten years or a third offense within a lifetime (two years if the driver's BAC is .16% or more)
  • three years for a third offense in ten years or a fourth offense within a lifetime
  • four years for a fourth offense within ten years, and
  • six years for a fifth offense within the driver's lifetime.

The suspension periods for a DWI conviction generally run concurrent to any test failure or test refusal suspension.

A DWI that involved personal injury will add 90 days to the normal suspension period.

Failing a Chemical Test in Minnesota

If the driver submits to a chemical test and is over the legal alcohol limit (.08% or more) or tests positive for a listed controlled substance, the officer will submit the result and a report to the DMV. The driver's license will be suspended for the same period as for a DWI conviction.

Getting a Restricted License in Minnesota After a DWI Suspension

Drivers suspended due to a DWI conviction, test failure, or test refusal can apply for a restricted driver's license under the Minnesota ignition interlock program.

Applicants must show proof of an installed ignition interlock device (IID) and will be restricted to only operating vehicles equipped with such a device. Drivers with at least three prior offenses (or two in the last ten years) must complete or enroll in an approved treatment program before applying.

Minnesota's Underage Drinking and Driving Laws

Minnesota prohibits persons under the age of 21 from driving with any amount of alcohol in their system. A violation is considered a misdemeanor and carries up to 90 days in jail and a maximum $1,000 in fines.

The driver's license will be suspended for 30 days for a first offense and 180 days for a subsequent offense. A violation will also delay the driver's advancement in Minnesota's graduated license program.

Talk with a Minnesota DWI Lawyer

The consequences of a DWI conviction are serious. If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, it's important to get legal assistance as soon as possible. A qualified DWI lawyer can help you decide on the best course of action in your case.

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