• DWI Overview

    Simplifying A Complex And Confusing Process

    The Minnesota Legislature didn't do anyone any favors when they drafted our DWI laws. There are currently 47 different statutory chapters that deal directly with the crime of driving while impaired -- it's the most complex and confusing set of criminal statutes that we have in Minnesota. 

    The attorneys at Ramsay Law firm have dedicated their careers to fighting for clients who are entangled with these laws, and we're very good at it. Here's a brief overview of what you're facing if you were arrest for DWI, whether it happened in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Anoka, Hastings, or in Duluth, Moorhead, or Pipestone. 

    Two Court Cases, With Different Consequences

    Almost every DWI case in Minnesota will consist of two court cases, a criminal case and a civil case. These are completely separate cases, with different consequences, different rules, different prosecutors, and usually different judges. Once you grasp the difference between these two cases, you'll be well on your way to understanding exactly what you're facing.

    The Criminal Case

    The criminal case is what most people think about when they think about being charged with DWI. You're given a court date (and the State will issue a warrant if you don't show up for it), and the State is trying to impose criminal punishments -- things like putting you in jail, putting you on probation, fining you, and making you attend treatment. These are the typical criminal punishments in a DWI case.

    But criminal cases are not only governed by Minnesota law, but also by the Constitution, so you have a lot of constitutional protections that limit the State's ability to impose a criminal punishment. The two big ones are the presumption of innocence and the right to a jury trial.

    The presumption of innocence simply means that the State cannot punish you unless and until they manage to overcome that presumption. It can only overcome the presumption of innocence in a courtroom, and only in one of two ways -- either by convincing you to plead guilty (the State prefers this way) or convincing a jury of your peers to unanimously vote that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (the other right you have, your right to a jury trial). 

    So you'll end up with a court date (or a series of court dates) all geared towards overcoming the presumption that you are innocent. If you want to know more details about what that process looks like, check out our DWI Court Procedures page.

    The Civil, Or "Implied Consent" Case

    There is a second case that starts shortly after someone is arrested for DWI, the civil "Implied Consent" case. It's got different procedures in place, and the consequences are different, but almost any defense that can be raised in the criminal case can also be raised in the civil case.

    Why are there two cases? It's because the Minnesota Legislature wanted to find a way to remove the two key constitutional protections that we described from the criminal case -- they wanted to take away the presumption of innocence and the right to a jury trial. The State can't do that in a criminal case, but they can (and did) for this civil case.

    The stakes in the civil Implied Consent case are more straightforward; the State can't put you in jail, or put you on probation . . . but they can go after your driver's license, and your license plates. And because you're not presumed innocent, they can do it before you've every appeared before a judge. In fact, the civil case starts with the State taking your license and/or license plates the very day you're arrested.

    Now, just because you're not presumed innocent, it doesn't mean we can't fight to get your license back. But that fight looks a little different than it does on the criminal case. Because you're not presumed innocent in an Implied Consent case, the State doesn't need to get you into a courtroom to punish you. In fact, they'd prefer it if you didn't go to court at all; they've already "won" the second the arresting officer clips your license, and the best they can do in court is break even and "win" again. 

    We describe the process for challenging a license revocation and fighting to restore your driving privileges over on our Implied Consent Procedure page. For now, it's enough to know that once we demand a court date challenging the revocation, we can effectively raise the same defenses that we're already going to raise in the criminal case. The one thing we're missing -- the one other thing the Legislature took away when they made this separate case -- is the right to a trial by jury. Instead, we just get one hearing that's a mix between a suppression hearing and a trial by judge. 

    One DWI Arrest Can Start Even More Court Cases

    As we said before, the vast majority of DWI arrests start two types of court cases (the criminal case and the civil case). In rare circumstances, there will be no civil case, only a criminal case, meaning that the State cannot take your license unless they actually manage to convict you of the crime of DWI.

    But its far more likely that there will be additional cases pending as well. For certain offenders, they can not only face a civil Implied Consent case, but also a DWI vehicle forfeiture case -- where instead of taking your license the day of your arrest, the State took your vehicle. Just like the Implied Consent case, a forfeiture case requires us to file a petition demanding a hearing. Unlike an Implied Consent case, there are some unique defenses that can only be raised in a forfeiture hearing, although many of the defenses that can be raised in the criminal case also apply to a forfeiture. 

    Finally, if someone was on probation for a prior crime (DWI or otherwise) when they were arrested for a new DWI, they will likely face charges for violating the terms of their probation. Probation violations will often have more severe consequences than what the driver is facing for the new DWI arrest, and require special handling to ensure a good result. 

    Do you have additional questions? You can continue checking out our website for additional information, but it's a poor substitute for actual legal advice that applies to your particular case. Your best bet is to contact us, and let us answer your questions and explain how we can get to work for you.