Almost anyone with a driver’s license can get a DWI.
Last year there were 29,918 DWI arrests in Minnesota, down from the record high of 41,951 DWI arrests in 2006. Over 500,000 Minnesotans – one in seven licensed drivers – have been arrested for DWI.
A DWI charge can happen to almost anyone with a driver’s license. Driving is legal and so is drinking. It is even legal to drink and drive as long as you are not “impaired.” The problem is that you need not actually feel “impaired” to be guilty of DWI. In fact, you could be driving perfectly. The prosecutors need only show that you were driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08 or more. Since most people do not carry a device with them to tell us when their BAC has reached .08, it can be difficult to tell when it is illegal for them to drive. For a rough calculation of your BAC based upon your drinking habits, try using the “Drink Wheel”.
What clues do police officers look for on the roads?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published a booklet titled “The Visual Detection of DWI Motorists.” This detection guide is based on research conducted by the NHTSA and describes a set of behaviors that is used by officers to detect motorists with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater. The driving behaviors identified by the researchers are presented in four general categories:
- Problems in maintaining proper lane position (weaving, wide turns)
- Speed and braking problems (too slow or fast, abrupt stops)
- Vigilance problems (stopped at a green light, wrong side of road)
- Judgment problems (taking a turn too fast, dangerous maneuvers)
The clues presented in these categories are assigned probabilities to help predict that a driver is DWI (BAC > 0.08). For example, according to the research, if a driver is weaving over lane lines, the probability of DWI (a BAC of 0.08 or more) is more than 50 percent. When driver is weaving and exhibits any other clue listed, the probability of DWI jumps to at least 65 percent. Observing any two clues other than weaving indicates a probability of DWI of at least 50 percent. Some clues, such as swerving, accelerating for no reason, and driving on other than the designated roadway, have single-clue probabilities of greater than 70 percent.
But I wasn’t even “driving.”
In Minnesota, you do not need to be driving your car to get a DWI. You only need to be in “physical control” of your vehicle. This means that you can get a DWI if you decide that you shouldn’t be driving and you just climb into your car as a place to “sleep it off” or pull over to the side of the road to sleep.
What should you do if you are pulled over when you have been drinking?
Be polite. You must show your driver’s license and insurance card when stopped in a car. Otherwise, you don’t have to answer any questions.
You do not have to consent to any search of yourself or your car. If you do consent to a search, it can affect your rights later in court
What should you do if a police officer asks if you have been drinking?
You are not required to answer alcohol related questions. The best option is often to politely refuse to answer, such as, “I would like to speak with an attorney before I answer any questions”.
What should I do if a police officer asks me to take field sobriety tests?
If you aren’t legally intoxicated or impaired, then performing these tests may get you home in short order. But you are not obligated to perform any roadside tests. Most of us may not know what it feels like to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08. We don’t typically carry a device with us that measures our blood alcohol levels after a few drinks. And taking field sobriety tests gives the officer an opportunity observe your behavior in order to build a case for DWI. The officer will be looking for certain clues or signs of intoxication.
There are a wide range of field sobriety tests (FSTs), but most officers have begun following the federally-approved “standardized” field sobriety tests. These consist of a battery of three tests: (1) Heel-to-Toe (also referred to as “walk-and-turn”): (2) One-Leg Stand (standing on one leg and counting); and (3) Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (following the officer’s finger with your eyes).
You are not legally required to take any FSTs. The officer directing the tests is the sole judge of your performance and is only noting the things you do incorrectly. Therefore, in most cases a polite refusal to perform FSTs is appropriate.
The police did not read me my rights when they arrested me.
Despite what you might see on television, a police officer is not required to read you the Miranda rights unless you have already been arrested and the officer intends to ask you questions related to the offense of DWI. In many cases an officer does not read the Miranda rights until after you have submitted to chemical testing for alcohol concentration. Once the officer reads these rights to you, you should decline to answer any questions and ask to speak with a lawyer.
What is the punishment for DWI?
The consequences can vary depending on the circumstances and the jurisdiction, but in Minnesota the maximum punishment for a first time misdemeanor DWI is 90 days in jail, and a $1,000 fine. While there is no required minimum amount jail time, there are some mandatory penalties for a first time DWI including a mandatory minimum fine of $300, a mandatory chemical dependency assessment, a loss of driving privileges, and payment of reinstatement penalties.
You can also lose your license plates from a first time DWI.
You can lose the license plates on your car as a result of a first time DWI if your BAC test was over 0.16, or if you had children in your car, or if you refused to take a test for BAC. This isn’t limited to the car you were driving. You can lose your plates on all vehicles registered in your name.
You can lose your car for a second DWI.
Under certain circumstances you can forfeit the right to your vehicle if you get a second DWI within ten years of your first DWI.
Can I get a limited license to drive to work?
In most cases, yes. When you are charged with a first time DWI, you receive a temporary license allowing you to drive for 7 days. You are then eligible to get a limited license after a 15 day period without any driving privileges (22 days after being charged with DWI). Alternatively, you can get an ignition interlock system installed in your car to resume “unlimited” driving privileges immediately (no 15 day waiting period).
What should I do if I have been charged with a DUI/DWI?
If you have been charged with a DUI/DWI crime, speak to a knowledgeable defense lawyer as soon as possible. Early preparation by an experienced defense lawyer can increase your chances of a favorable outcome, including the possibility of charges being dropped.