Commentary by Nancy Johnson, MSD legislative liaison

Felony DWI passed the Minnesota legislature in August 1, 2002. This law affects multiply repeat offenders and these people will receive a felony charge and be facing prison time. This law was a long time coming and one that should be a wake up call to chronic drunk drivers that their life will change if they keep driving drunk. The laws in the past gave judges the option of placing these offenders in jail for usually up to 1 year and on probation for 2 years. The incarceration time was in county jail and usually on work release and the conviction was a gross misdemeanor. A felony conviction is much more serious and will put a damper on most people’s lives. It affects the ability to get many jobs, rent apartments, hunt, and vote to name a few. Also the sentence given will become a prison sentence not county jail and the probation time is 5 years. Prison was not possible under the old laws. The following is a description of how the law works.

When a person is arrested for their 4th DWI in 10 years they should be charged with a felony DWI. If convicted the felony is on the record even if a prison sentence is not executed. If convicted they could receive a 36 month prison sentence that probably would be stayed (postponed unless more convictions arise or probation has be violated). The 5th DWI would probably result in another stayed sentence. With the stayed prison sentence, the offender will be sentenced to county jail time up to one year, with the threat of the prison time being held over their head as a deterrent. The 6th or 7th DWI should result in a 54 month executed prison term. 

As of July 1, 2010 there were 686 people serving time in prison for DWI felony convictions. That is 7.1% of the prison population.


The report above is from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. To understand the legal terminology better, go to this website that describes what the terms mean.  http://mn.gov/sentencing-guidelines/assistance/training/