DWI vs DUI in Minnesota - What's the Difference?

We get a couple common questions asked of us when people are facing DWI charges in Minnesota. First, some people want to know the difference between DWI vs DUI. Second, they are wondering why they are facing two charges for DWI stemming from the same incident. Both are legitimate questions and hopefully we can provide some clarity here. 

Difference between DWI vs DUI

The difference between DWI vs DUI is primarily name more than substance. DWI stands for “Driving While Impaired.” And DUI stands for “Driving Under the Influence.” While they are essentially the same, Minnesota uses DWI formally when charging individuals. With that being said, Minnesota incorporates DUI into its formal DWI charging process. And there, the difference is very meaningful in how the State must prove its case for each charge. And this leads us nicely into the second common question we get…

Why am I facing two DWI charges for one incident?

Approximately 90% of individuals that are arrested for a DWI face two DWI charges once formally charged. They are: (1) DWI – Under the Influence and (2) DWI – .08 or more alcohol concentration as measured within two hours of the time the person was driving. So let’s break this down more to understand why you are likely facing two DWI charges for one DWI incident.

For the first charge – driving under the influence – the State must prove that the driver of a vehicle was impaired by alcohol (or controlled substances in the alternative). This can be proven without the use of a formal DWI breath/urine/blood test that would show an alcohol concentration in excess of .08. In fact, it is not unheard of for city prosecutors to charge individuals for a DWI – Under the Influence when the formal breath test was a .07, for instance. The reason is because the evidence used to show driving under the influence are the circumstances surrounding the DWI. 

There are three primary pieces of evidence used to show driving under the influence. First, the driving conduct. Typical impaired driving involves a driver that is weaving over lane lines, driving too slow, changing lanes unintentionally and without signaling, etc. Most squad vehicles have video cameras that capture the driving conduct at issue and can be incredibly damning evidence – or helpful, too. Second, indicia of impairment. Here, the State relies upon the perceptions of the arresting officer when interacting with the driver. The typical indicia are: bloodshot/watery eyes, slurred speech, odor of alcohol, confusion, and an admission to drinking alcohol. Third, the driver’s performance in the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Failing one or all three of those tests is further evidence towards a person being impaired while driving.

Using these pieces of evidence, the State must prove that the driver was “so affected by an alcoholic beverage that the person does not possess that clearness of intellect and control otherwise would have.” This is the definition given to the jury for the driving under the influence charge.

For the second charge – DWI-.08 or more – the State relies upon the formal breath/urine/blood test taken to show that the driver is over the legal limit of .08 to drive in the state. The State does not need to show actual impairment, just a test above .08. And, unfortunately, we have seen numerous clients test above the legal limit who were not actually impaired – some even the next morning after a night out. But, this is a firm law – if you are over the legal limit, you cannot be driving – regardless of actual impairment or not.

The law requires the test to be taken within two-hours of when the person was last driving (i.e. the stop). But, this is not a hard deadline, for lack of a better term. Courts have routinely upheld tests taken outside of two hours when it can be discerned that the test result is reliable and valid, and would have been above .08 within two hours. 

Minnesota DUI Lawyers

Hopefully this helps clear up two common questions people have when facing DWI charges. And as you can see, the difference in DUI vs DWI is both in name and method of proof. If you have DWI charges, hiring a DWI attorney (a.k.a. DUI lawyer) best protects you and allows you to fight the case as much as possible. There is simply too much at stake – with criminal consequences (including possible jail), loss of license, whiskey plates, and possible vehicle forfeiture – to navigate this challenging process without us.