DWI Sentencing

Maximum Sentences

One question which individuals often ask about their DWI cases is what the worst case scenario is. It bears remembering that an impaired driving conviction usually carries collateral consequences. These are impacts which occur outside of criminal court, and includes license revocation or cancellation, license plate impoundment, and forfeiture.

As a legal matter, the worst thing which could happen in criminal court is that the judge imposes the maximum sentence. The maximum sentence for any given charge depends on the offense level. Regardless of the offense level and in addition to any fines, the court can also impose a penalty assessment of up to $1,000 if the person had an alcohol concentration of 0.16 or more.

Misdemeanor DWI (Fourth Degree)
Fourth degree DWI is a misdemeanor, and carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. As an alternative to a full 90 days in jail, the court can place a person convicted of misdemeanor DWI on probation for up to two years.
Gross Misdemeanor DWI (Second or Third Degree)
Second and Third degree DWI are both gross misdemeanors, and carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a maximum fine of $3,000. Alternatively, the court can place a person convicted of gross misdemeanor DWI on probation for up to six years.
Felony DWI (First Degree)
First degree DWI is a felony with a maximum sentence of seven years and a maximum fine of $14,000. In addition, if a person is committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections (sent to prison) for a felony DWI, the court must impose a five year conditional release period. A person who violates the conditions of release can be sent back to prison for all or some of the conditional release period. Alternatively, a person convicted of felony DWI can be placed on probation for up to seven years.

Minimum Sentences

Minnesota law provides mandatory minimum sentences for many DWI offenses. However, the minimum sentence depends not on the level of the charge, but on the individual’s prior record. Specifically, it depends on the number of qualified prior impaired driving incidents the person had in the ten years preceding the current offense.

In many cases, there are alternatives to the “mandatory” sentences. Depending on the circumstances, these alternatives may include:

  • DWI Court
  • Staggered sentencing
  • Intensive supervision
  • Ignition interlock as a condition of probation
Second Offense (one prior in the past 10 years)
Generally, a second offense carries a minimum sentence of 30 days, of which 48 hours must be served in custody. Typically this means the remaining 28 days are served on electronic home monitoring (house arrest).
Third Offense (two priors in the past 10 years)
A third offense generally carries a minimum sentence of 90 days, of which 30 must be served in custody. The remaining 60 days are typically served on electronic home monitoring (house arrest).
Fourth Offense (three priors in the past 10 years)
A fourth offense generally has a minimum sentence of 180 days, of which 30 must be served in custody.
Fifth Offense (four priors in the past 10 years)
Generally a fifth offense has a minimum sentence of one year, of which 60 days must be served in custody.

Other DWI Sentencing Considerations

Chemical Use Assessment

In most cases, when a person is convicted of impaired driving, the court will order the person to complete a chemical use assessment (also called a Rule 25 or a chemical dependency evaluation) and to follow the recommendations of the assessment. Depending on the individual and the offense, the assessment may recommend programming ranging from a few hours of DWI education to inpatient treatment and aftercare. The assessment may recommend that the person participate in a sobriety support group or abstain entirely from the use of alcohol. Violating – or failing to fulfill – these recommendations could violate a person’s probation and result in court sanctions up to and including incarceration. Additionally, assessments, treatment and other programming can be costly. While health insurance is sometimes available to cover or defray the costs, many individuals pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket to comply with these requirements.

Work Release

In most cases, the court will authorize work release for a person sentenced to jail or house arrest. However, not all individuals will meet the eligibility requirements. For example, the job site generally must be within a certain distance of the facility (often 50 miles), and the individual generally must have transportation. Most facilities have minimum and maximum hours a person can work. Additionally, participation in work release will require the knowledge, cooperation, and supervision of your employer. Finally, work release generally comes with additional costs.

Electronic Home Monitoring

Electronic home monitoring (also called EHM or house arrest) must be approved by the court. In addition, there are eligibility requirements set by the facility. The person must have a stable place to live, and that place often must be within a certain distance of the facility. In many cases, the home must also have touchtone land-line phone service. EHM also typically requires payment of additional fees, though the amount of the fees may depend on financial circumstances, or may be subject to reduction based on financial hardship.

How an Experienced DWI Defense Attorney Can Help

If you have recently been arrested for or charged with impaired driving, it may feel like you have an open and shut case, with a predetermined outcome. After looking at a few legal websites, it may seem like you could just as effectively represent yourself as hire a professional.

While you can learn quite a bit on the internet, this kind of information is no substitute for the experience and education of a professional advocate. Your DWI defense attorney should:

  • Carefully evaluate the facts of your case and the applicable law. This may result in finding a defense you did not realize existed.
  • Advise you of steps you can take immediately to lessen the ultimate consequences for your case.
  • Assist you in evaluating all the options available for handling your case.
  • Advocate for you with the prosecutor and the judge.
  • Evaluate and analyze the criminal and collateral consequences applicable to your case.
  • Consider alternatives to the “standard” outcome which may be more appropriate for your case.
  • Ensure that you understand the immediate and long-term impacts of any agreement you enter.

At F. Clayton Tyler, P.A., our experienced DWI defense lawyers are committed to providing Straight Talk and Honest Answers. Our attorneys handle all aspects of the case – not only the criminal case, but also the implied consent and forfeiture. We represent clients in district court and on appeal or for expungement, probation revocation, or postconviction relief proceedings. Our office is in Minneapolis, and we regularly appear for DWI cases in Hennepin County (Minneapolis, Edina, Minnetonka, Brooklyn Park), Ramsey County (St. Paul, Maplewood), Anoka County (Anoka), Dakota County (Hastings, Apple Valley, West St. Paul), Washington County (Stillwater), and Carver County (Chaska). We also handle felony and appellate cases statewide.

If you are facing a criminal charge, you need professional, personal representation. Our team of attorneys will offer you Straight Talk and Honest Answers about your case.