Legislation Would Put Hold on Minnesota DWI Penalties

In an effort to restore due process and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, a state lawmaker has introduced a bill calling for motorists to be convicted of driving while intoxicated in Minnesota before losing their driver’s licenses.

Under current Minnesota DWI law, drivers have their licenses suspended or revoked shortly after an arrest for suspicion of drunk driving. The revocation process can begin within 7 days of an arrest, and it is a separate civil case that occurs before defendants appear in court to resolve their criminal DWI offenses. The minimum suspension for registering a blood-alcohol content over the legal limit of .08% is 90 days. Refusal to submit to a breath or blood test will result in a one year suspension.

Under the proposed legislation, motorists would lose their licenses for a minimum of 30 days if the failed a breath test and at least 60 days if they refused to take a test.

Opponents of the measure have been quick to denounce it. Minnesota has an implied consent law which makes it mandatory for a motorist to provide a breath or blood sample if a law enforcement officer suspects a case of DWI. It is under that provision that licenses are suspended rapidly. Supporters of the bill say that drivers are penalized well before they even have the opportunity to defend themselves. They cite that not all motorists who drink are drunk. The public perception of an intoxicated driver is that of the chronic drunk who usually registers a BAC over twice the legal limit. In contrast, an arrest for MN DWI can be initiated by an officer based on the presence of alcohol and an assumption of impairment. The Breathalyzer equipment used in Minnesota has come under repeated legal challenges across the country for software glitches, and improperly maintained or calibrated equipment can lead to a false positive BAC readings. There are physical limitations that may influence a field sobriety test. It is those types of situations that are resolved in the court system with an impartial judge or jury.

The bill would also stop the seizure of license plates and vehicles until a person is convicted of DWI in Minnesota. In addition to re-asserting civil liberties, the legislation’s author has criticized the current system as having fostered a costly, unwieldy bureaucracy.

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