Being able to drive is important for getting around efficiently in northern and western Minnesota, with its relative lack of mass transportation and its spread-out communities. Unfortunately, because the state has criminalized such a wide variety of major and minor driving-related offenses, many people find themselves facing legal consequences based on driving incidents and needing the help of a criminal defense attorney.

Reckless or Careless Driving

Reckless or careless driving in Minnesota (Minn. Stat. 169.13) is charged as a criminal offense. These offenses, though fairly common, may carry jail time and significant fines if one is found guilty as charged by the police.

U.S. laws covering reckless or careless driving are extensive. Sometimes, those accused don’t even realize they have potentially committed a crime until they are charged. Each state has its own version of what it considers reckless or careless driving, so if charged with this offense, you should consult Ringstrom Law to understand the accusation made against you.

Generally, however, careless driving is charged if a law enforcement officer observes that you are operating a motor vehicle carelessly, disregarding the rights of other drivers on the road or of pedestrians, or driving in a way that could put people (including those inside your vehicle) or property in danger. If found guilty of careless driving, you will have a misdemeanor conviction that is punishable with up to 90 days in jail, with a fine up to $1,000.

Reckless driving is similar to careless driving, but not identical. You can be charged with reckless driving if you purposely ignore the meaningful chance that your driving will hurt another person or their property. It can also be charged if you engage in a motor vehicle race. Reckless driving is also a misdemeanor that can carry up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

In many careless or reckless driving cases, the offender has a reasonable explanation for how he or she was driving. Explanations can include distraction by an emotional issue occurring in one’s personal life, being in a rush to someplace important, not attending to sudden changes in road or weather conditions, and many other frequently encountered factors. While these are not necessarily excuses for criminal behavior, they may be of some value in explaining why you were driving in what was thought to be a “reckless” or “careless” manner.

In some cases, alleged offenders are unlawfully charged for this crime. A defense attorney can make legal challenges to improper arrests, but you will want a seasoned criminal defense attorney helping you through the legal process regardless of whether you should have been charged at all. A reckless or careless driving violation on your record can have long-reaching consequences on your future and your finances. For example, many jobs that don’t involve driving as a primary task still require it as an occasional task, and having a driving-related conviction can prevent you from being considered for those jobs.

Reckless Driving with a DWI Charge

Minnesota laws make it possible for a driver being charged with a DWI (driving while impaired) to enter into a plea bargain to receive a lesser charge. If your attorney at Ringstrom Law enters a plea to reduce your DWI down to a reckless driving charge, it might be colloquially referred to as a “wet reckless.”

The consequences of a “wet reckless” conviction, including how much time you have to spend in jail, will depend on the sentence assigned to your plea bargain. Sentencing law is complicated and can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. There are a number of factors that affect punishments, including the severity of the damage you caused if any, and how you've performed jail-alternative work programs. Your attorney at Ringstrom Law will work hard to get the best sentence possible for you. Taking the case to trial is also an option; in some cases we will recommend it.

DWI Charges in Minnesota

A first-offense DWI in Minnesota is when you have no other DWIs within the past ten years. A DWI, sometimes referred to as a DUI (driving under the influence), can carry both administrative and criminal penalties. A DWI under the law in Minnesota (Minn. Stat. 169A.20) is defined as driving, operating, or simply being in physical control of a motor vehicle while

  • You are physically or mentally impaired from drugs or alcohol
  • You are knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance that is known to impair your body and your driving abilities
  • You have a BAC (blood-alcohol concentration) of .08 percent or more
  • You have any detectable amount of a Schedule I or II drug in your system

When you are being investigated for DWI in Minnesota, it is a crime to refuse a breath alcohol test, as it is an implied consent test refusal crime. (“Implied consent” means that anytime you drive, the government regards you as giving implicit consent to be tested for impaired driving, even though you haven’t explicitly given written or verbal consent attached to that particular act of driving.)

Whether you’re charged with test refusal or another type of DWI, you will need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to fight the charge and protect your rights. Ringstrom Law understands Minnesota’s complex DWI laws and has the experience to help you through this legal process.

DWI Criminal Penalties

As can be expected, a criminal court issues criminal penalties if you are convicted of a DWI. (For administrative penalties, see below.) A first DWI in ten years will be charged as a misdemeanor, with a maximum 90-day jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000. This level of crime can be increased to a gross misdemeanor if any of the following apply to your case:

  • You refused to take the breath test at your arrest
  • Your breath test resulted in .16 percent or higher
  • You had a passenger in your vehicle at the time of arrest who was under the age of 16

If your case involves one or more of these situations and your charges are escalated to a gross misdemeanor, you can be facing a jail sentence of one year and a $3,000 fine. You may also be required to take a chemical dependency assessment and submit the results to the court, even with a first-time DWI offense.

DWI Administrative Penalties

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety handles administrative penalties if you are charged with a DWI in Minnesota. These penalties are designed to provide swift consequences and are imposed soon after your DWI arrest. These consequences can even be applied if you are not ultimately convicted of the DWI criminal charges.

As a first-time offender, your driver’s license can be revoked up to 90 days. If your charge involves a refusal of a chemical test, or you tested at .16 percent or higher, the revocation can be increased to one year.

Another administrative penalty that can be imposed is plate impoundment, the confiscation of your vehicle’s license plates. This applies to first-time offenses of DWI if your blood alcohol content was .16 percent or more, or if you had a passenger 16 years of age or younger with you in the vehicle at the time of your arrest. It does not apply to test refusals, however.

With plate impoundment, you have to remove and surrender the license plates from your vehicle. This impoundment applies to all vehicles registered in your name, even those you own jointly with another person. In order to drive those vehicles again, you will be required to apply for special registration plates, or what are called “whiskey plates.”

Clearly these consequences, even though not strictly part of the criminal side of the case, can impact your life and driving privileges significantly. You will want Ringstrom Law working with you to understand and mitigate their effects.

The direct costs involved with a DWI in Minnesota are also significant. These costs can include

  • Criminal fines and fees/surcharges
  • Assessment fees to determine chemical dependency, followed by the cost of treatment when it is recommended
  • Bail or bond expenses
  • Driver’s license reinstatement fee of $680 and driver’s license examination fee (to regain your driving privileges)
  • Plate impoundment fees (if it applies)
  • If you need or want to drive during the license revocation period, you will have to pay for the installation and maintenance of an ignition interlock device 

Second-Degree DWIs

In Minnesota, gross misdemeanor DWIs can be either second-degree (Minn. Stat. 169A.25) or third-degree (Minn. Stat. 169A.26) charges. The second-degree charge requires at least two aggravating factors, while the third-degree charge requires only one of these factors (or a test refusal). The aggravating factors are 

  • A prior DWI in the past ten years
  • A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.16 percent or higher
  • A passenger in the vehicle who was under 16 years old

Perhaps the main distinguishing feature of a second-degree DWI is that your vehicle is subject to forfeiture. Even if you are able to get the vehicle back by contesting and winning the forfeiture case, being without your vehicle for a period of time can be a huge challenge. Ringstrom Law has successfully returned many vehicles to its clients using forfeiture challenge lawsuits.

The other consequences for this level of DWI include a longer jail sentence and license plate revocation. The amount of time you spend in jail will depend in part on the factors involved in your arrest and your past DWI convictions. Without the intervention of highly-skilled defense counsel, if you have two prior convictions of DWI on your record within the past ten years, your sentence will typically be a minimum of 90 days in jail. If you have just one prior DWI conviction within ten years, you are 30 days of jail. If your blood-alcohol readings were elevated, the court might bestow a stiffer penalty.

Hit and Run

If you are involved in an accident, you are legally required to stop your vehicle as soon as safely possible and go back to the scene of the accident. Once at the scene, you are required to provide the police and any other driver involved with your name, address, date of birth, and registration. If the vehicle you've hit is unattended, you need to make a reasonable attempt to find the owner or the other driver, contact the police, or leave your contact information for the other owner. If you do not follow these steps, it can become a “hit and run” incident, treated under Minnesota Statute 169.09 (“Collisions”).

It is possible to be charged with a felony for a hit and run if the accident involved the death of an individual, even if your vehicle didn’t cause the collision. With this charge, you are facing a potential sentence of up to three years in prison and fines that can go as high as $5,000.

Hit and runs that involve different levels of non-fatal bodily harm can also be charged as crimes. For great bodily harm, as defined by Minnesota law, the penalty can be up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $4,000. A substantial bodily harm hit-and-run conviction can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.

Hit and run offenses are taken very seriously by judges, prosecutors, and the police. You absolutely must have a legitimate reason for departing the scene of an accident, and you will need an attorney well-versed in Minnesota law to help defend against a hit and run charge. There are some defenses that can prevail against this charge, and the legal counsel of Ringstrom Law can guide you through how to successfully mount those defenses in court.

Criminal Vehicular Homicide

If you are arrested for being grossly negligent or impaired while operating a vehicle, and your driving results in the death of another person, you can be charged with criminal vehicular homicide. This type of homicide applies in the following situations: 

  • You were grossly negligent (see definition below) in your driving conduct
  • You drove with negligence of a lesser degree but were also under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • You caused a collision and left that collision scene without exchanging the required information with others (hit and run) 
  • You were issued a citation for faulty maintenance of your vehicle, did not have the proper repairs done, and your failure to act caused the accident which involved someone’s death

Gross negligence is defined in Minnesota as extreme negligence or when one has acted without any amount of care towards putting another person at risk of harm. It essentially means that as a driver you were completely oblivious of your actions and the harm you could cause others. There are also other, more specific definitions that would be read to a jury in the event of a trial.

A defendant’s criminal history plays some part in determining the consequences of vehicular homicide. This offense can carry a ten-year prison sentence and a fine of $20,000. If you have certain types of driving offenses on your record within the past ten years, the maximum prison sentence is increased to 15 years. First and second-degree DWI and criminal vehicular injury involving drugs or alcohol are some examples of qualified prior offenses.

If you’ve been arrested for criminal vehicular homicide, your driver’s license is immediately suspended. If you are convicted of this charge and there were drugs or alcohol involved, your license is revoked from six to ten years. 

Criminal vehicular homicide is one of the most serious driving-related offenses in Minnesota, and you will want to contact Ringstrom Law to help you through this challenging legal process. Our team has tried criminal vehicular homicide cases both as jury trials and court trials, and we have secured not guilty verdicts for our clients. We bring deep experience to this type of case, and yet we understand that all cases are different and that creative thinking is essential. Having this balance of experience and ingenuity can significantly improve your outcome.

Driving After Cancellation as Inimical to Public Safety

Someone’s driver’s license can be cancelled as “inimical to public safety” if the state of Minnesota regards that person as simply too big of a risk to others on the road. Qualifying events include a third DWI within ten years, a new DWI offense within ten years of special review, or having four or more alcohol offenses in your lifetime. The mere act of driving if you are under this type of cancellation is a fresh crime (a gross misdemeanor), even if your driving conduct is otherwise perfect.

In order to have your driving privileges reinstated from this penalty, you will need to enroll in the state’s ignition interlock program and complete a number of actions: 

  • Complete a chemical use assessment and enroll in a treatment program. The treatment assessor will have to submit enrollment verification documents to Driver and Vehicle Services within the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
  • Take and pass a DWI written knowledge test. This test will cover chapters seven and eight of the Minnesota Driver’s Manual.
  • Pay a reinstatement fee of $680
  • Apply for a new driver’s license and pay the cost of the application fee
  • Install and sign an ignition interlock participation agreement
  • Show proof of insurance for the vehicle that will be equipped with the ignition interlock device (documentation must come directly from your insurance company, not the agent who handles your policies)
  • Sign a “last use” form.
  • Complete and send a limited license application to Driver and Vehicle Services
  • Use a qualified vendor to install the ignition interlock system
  • Apply for a special registration license plate once you’ve obtained the ignition interlock limited license

Ringstrom Law has defended many driving after cancellation cases and is prepared to help you assert your rights and protect your future driving privileges. We have gotten a number of DAC-IPS charges dismissed.

Driving Without Insurance

If you own and operate a vehicle on Minnesota roadways, you are required to have auto insurance. You are also required to have proof of this insurance coverage on you or in your vehicle. Failure to have this proof when stopped by the authorities is considered driving without insurance and is a misdemeanor under Minnesota law (Minn. Stat. 169.791). If you do not have the insurance proof with you at the time you are stopped, you may be allowed to produce it at a later date and get your misdemeanor charge dropped. 

If you were driving someone else's vehicle, you may not be convicted unless it can be proven you knew the vehicle was uninsured. Under these circumstances, you must provide the police with the address and name of the owner, or risk criminal charges. The owner of the vehicle will have ten days to provide proof of insurance, and if they do not, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Driving without insurance can cause you jail time (up to 90 days) and fines of $200-$1,000 (community service can be substituted if you’re facing financial hardship). You also face the possible revocation of your driver's license and registration. An attorney can discuss this charge with you and examine possible defenses before you suffer the hardship of losing your license.

Find a Driving Offense Attorney Near Me

Although there is a wide range of severity for Minnesota’s different driving offenses, even the relatively minor offenses can negatively affect someone’s life, both while a case is pending and long afterward. Contact Ringstrom Law at 218-284-0484 as soon as possible to protect your driving privileges and your constitutional rights and to keep convictions from staining your driving record.

MN criminal defense attorneys Bruce Ringstrom Jr. & Bruce Ringstrom Sr.

Bruce Ringstrom Jr. & Bruce Ringstrom Sr.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in MN & ND

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