DWI Aggravating Factors - Supreme Court Clarification

The severity of a DWI in Minnesota depends on the number of aggravating factors, if any. If there are none, the DWI is a misdemeanor offense, with no statutory sentencing requirements. If one or more DWI aggravating factors are present, the DWI can be either a gross misdemeanor or felony. The Minnesota Supreme Court just offered further clarification on one of the three aggravating factors.

To begin with, here are the three DWI aggravating factors:

  1. A qualified prior impaired driving incident within the ten years immediately preceding the current offense;
  2. 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
  3. 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.

Minn. Stat. 169A.03, subd. 3. The new Supreme Court case dealt with the first DWI aggravating factor, by detailing when a qualified prior impaired driving incident is present for purposes of using it to enhance a DWI.

The facts of the case are important to understand. In State v. Anderson, the defendant was arrested for a DWI in October and received a license revocation, effective seven days later. He filed a petition for judicial review, but ultimately waived this IC fight the following April. Before then, the defendant picked up a second DWI in December. The state did not formally bring criminal charges against the defendant until 9 months later, though, and used the license revocation from his first DWI as an aggravating factor to enhance the second DWI. The defendant argued that this was improper because the judicial review was still pending at the time of the second DWI.

The question before the Court was: can a license revocation be used as a DWI aggravating factor if the IC fight is still pending at the time of a subsequent DWI arrest? Short answer: Yes, once waived or confirmed by a judge following an IC hearing.

The Court recognized that an unreviewed license revocation – i.e. the IC fight is still pending or the time period by which to bring a petition for judicial review has not lapsed – cannot be used as an aggravating factor. But, here, the State waited until the review of the license revocation was waived, effectively giving up the IC fight and resulting in the license revocation remaining on the defendant’s driving record. The analysis, therefore, boiled down to whether the license revocation was ‘present’ at the time of the second offense, even if the IC fight was still pending. And the Court concluded that the revocation is present as of its effective date (i.e. seven days after the DWI) – not when the review period has lapsed or the petition for judicial review has been waived. 

Despite this ruling, there are still significant strategy opportunities for anyone facing two DWI’s that occurred close in time. The timing and order in resolving the cases can be the difference between jail time or not. For instance, the North Star team has successfully avoided any custody time, including house arrest, for a former client who was in the same shoes as the Anderson defendant because the attorneys knew the strategy in both the timing and order of resolving the two pending cases. 

If you are facing a DWI case – or two – it is critical to get a Minnesota DWI attorney that understands the DWI aggravating factors and the strategies connected to them. The North Star team is the one you need to fight and counsel you through these challenging times.