Before about 1990, a Minnesota DWI was little more than a rather serious traffic ticket. In fact, many Brainerd officers just gave intoxicated motorists a warning. But since then, and even more so since the early 2010s, authorities have gotten tough on DWIs, in both the field and the courthouse. Judges have authorized many new tools, like roadside checkpoints, that have increased the number of arrests. People do not even have to be “driving” a vehicle to be arrested for Driving While Intoxicated. Faced with these situations, hiring a DWI lawyer in Brainerd MN is a no-brainer.
Why You Should Contest Your DWI in Brainerd MN
Some people think that if they are guilty of DWI, there’s no point in fighting the case. Many times, it’s better to accept the inevitable and get it over with. But a criminal case is usually not one of these times. Even if you think you are guilty, perhaps because you failed a chemical test, you might not be legally guilty. More than likely, there is at least one defense that could either significantly reduce the punishment or prompt the judge to throw the case out of court.
Lawmakers have changed the DWI law, so it is much easier to obtain convictions. Before about 2000, a chemical test was only evidence of intoxication. Now, defendants who have a BAC above the legal limit are intoxicated as a matter of law. As a result, in many jurisdictions, about half the probationers were convicted of DWI. The offense is so serious, especially when considering the direct and collateral consequences, that you could really benefit by getting a DWI Lawyer.
What Is at Stake in a Minnesota DWI?
Lengthy court supervision and substantial cost are the two biggest direct consequences of this offense. For fourth-degree DWI, which is a first offense, the average Crow Wing County probation length is two years. The average supervision periods increase for each subsequent charge, all the way up to seven years for first-degree DWI (fourth or subsequent offense).
There is a substantial cost as well, and the high fine is just the beginning. Typically, when considering fines, court costs, supervision fees, and higher insurance rates, the average cost for a first offense is about $10,000. With the help of a DWI lawyer in Brainerd MN, you have a chance to create the best defense against your charges.
Higher Insurance Premiums
Those higher insurance premiums are the most expensive consequence. Most people must obtain high risk SR-22 insurance. In some cases, that may increase your rates by over 60 percent. The higher rate usually remains in force for three years. Afterwards, drivers can shop around for other insurance. But there is no guarantee that their rates will drop substantially.
Drivers’ License Suspension
A DWI conviction can also mean lengthy drivers’ license suspension. That suspension can be up to one year for a first-time offense. Sometimes, a lawyer can arrange a restricted drivers’ license that includes an ignition interlock device. Many Minnesotans depend heavily on their vehicles. So, this possibility alone is a good reason for you to get a DWI lawyer in Brainerd.
How Can a DWI Lawyer in Brainerd MN Help Me?
The criminal law system is more like a process. Defendants go from one stage to the next. A Brainerd DWI lawyer provides help at every stage of this process. If you don’t have a DWI lawyer in Brainerd, you are on your own. People in this situation can fight the power and rage against the machine as much as they want. But their criminal cases usually end very badly.
Jail Release in Brainerd, MN
In many misdemeanors, jail release is not much of an issue. The judge gives the defendant a few days in jail, and the case ends. DWI is a lot different. A jail sentence would be a few weeks or months as opposed to a few days. Furthermore, a jail sentence could mean long-term drivers’ license suspension.
Most DWIs are nonviolent misdemeanors. Therefore, jail release usually is not much of a problem. In fact, OR (Own Recognizance) pretrial release might be an option. OR release programs vary. Usually, however, if the defendant pays a small administrative fee and promises to abide by release conditions, the sheriff releases the defendant.
Conditions of Release
These conditions include more than showing up at trial. Most defendants must remain in the county at all times and report monthly to a supervision officer. Additionally, most DWI defendants must have IIDs in their vehicles.
An Ignition Interlock Device is basically a Breathalyzer that’s connected to the ignition. If a specimen is over the limit, which is usually .04, the vehicle won’t start the next time someone turns the key.
Repeat or aggravated DWI is much different. There is basically a presumption that these defendants are a threat to public safety. Therefore, officials only grant bail in limited circumstances.
Bail Factors in Brainerd
A Brainerd DWI lawyer goes to bat for defendants in these situations. At the arraignment hearing, judges consider a wide range of bail factors, such as the defendant’s:
- Criminal record,
- Ability to pay,
- Threat to the public, and
- Connections to the community.
Jail release is important in a criminal case. Most people, including most jurors, subconsciously assume that people in jail did something wrong.
Selecting the Right Brainerd DWI Lawyer
Unless the case is quite complex, as outlined above, an attorney search process usually begins in earnest after the jail release phase.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel in all criminal cases, including misdemeanor DWI. However, this provision does not guarantee the right to free counsel. Crow Wing County has an excellent public defender’s office. It is large enough to have ample resources, and yet small enough so the attorneys are not overworked.
For the most part, individual judges have their own rules as to when the public defender is available. Many judges reason, correctly or incorrectly, that if the defendant can afford to make bail, the defendant can afford an attorney. So, a public defender may be unavailable except in jail cases. That probably means that you need a DWI lawyer in Brainerd.
Crow Wing County Criminal Defense Lawyers
In many ways, Crow Wing County criminal defense lawyers are the same. But there are some very important differences as well, such as:
- Experience: Years of experience are important. But this figure is often deceptive. Many criminal defense lawyers have little trial experience. Instead, they fall into a pattern of accepting the state’s first offer. No one wants an attorney who always looks for the easy way out.
- Dedication: Successful criminal defense lawyers are passionate about individual rights. They don’t practice criminal defense as a sideshow or just take a few cases for friends and family.
- Accessibility: Goldilocks sought a dinner, chair, and bed that was neither too hot nor too cold. You do not want a lawyer who is too busy to give your case the attention it deserves. You also don’t want a lawyer who sits in the office and waits for your call.
Choosing the right Brainerd DWI lawyer might be the most important decision you ever make. But don’t shop around for too long. The faster you make a good decision, the sooner your lawyer starts working for you.
Pretrial Defenses in Brainard MN
The vast majority of Minnesota DWI cases do not go to trial. Instead, an attorney negotiates a plea bargain with the prosecutor. Usually, that agreement includes probation.
Additionally, Crow Wing County is rather unique in that prosecutors allow defendants to plead guilty to reckless driving, especially in borderline cases. Section 169.13 is a misdemeanor, like both third and fourth-degree DWI. However, reckless driving does not have many of the same collateral consequences. A reckless driving conviction probably means higher auto insurance rates, but they may not be as high. Furthermore, there is no drivers’ license suspension or ignition interlock requirement.
However, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Prosecutors only offer sweet deals like reckless driving if there are serious problems with the evidence. If that’s true, many prosecutors would rather secure convictions for lesser-included offenses than having an additional L on their win-loss records. At the pretrial stage, Brainers DWI lawyers usually concentrate on procedural defenses, such as:
- No Reasonable Suspicion: This drunk driving defense is especially common in roadside checkpoint matters. Officers don’t need reasonable suspicion, which is basically an evidence-based hinch, to detain motorists at DWI roadblocks. However, these checkpoints must meet specific legal requirements, mostly regarding the checkpoint’s setup and operation. A failure in any area could invalidate the checkpoint and therefore the stop.
- Failure to Warn: When officers demand breath or blood samples, they must administer statutory warnings. There could be several issues in this area. Many statutory warnings are mostly Legalese and difficult to understand, especially if, as the state claims, the person was intoxicated at the time. Furthermore, the officer who reads these rights must normally speak the defendant’s language. An officer who speaks, reads, and writes only English cannot warn non-English speakers of the test consequences, even if the words are in the defendant’s language.
- Failure to Mirandize: All criminal defendants are entitled to these general warnings, such as the right to remain silent. Officers must administer these warnings before custodial interrogation begins. “Custody” means the defendant does not feel free to leave. Arguably, therefore, officers should definitely administer these warnings before they ask the defendant if s/he has been drinking.
- Technical Chemical Test Issues: Today’s Breathalyzers are extremely sophisticated and sensitive devices. They require regular maintenance from qualified professionals. Judges have thrown out dozens of cases, or even hundreds of cases, because of technical Breathalyzer flaws.
An experienced DWI defense attorney can evaluate this evidence in a case and provide you with your best options. In other words, it’s not necessarily a good idea to jump at a wet reckless plea. If the evidence is especially weak, a trial may be in your best interests.
DWI Trial Defenses in Brainard MN
There are basically two kinds of DWI trials, at least from an evidence standpoint. Test cases rely on, wait for it, chemical test results. Non-test cases usually hinge on the approved Field Sobriety Tests.
The burden of proof is the same in both kinds of trials. Prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Minnesota courts have a not-very-helpful definition of reasonable doubt. “The jury has a high degree of certainty about the defendant’s guilt, although they need not be 100 percent convinced.”
An Example of the Need for Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
If Oscar drives a grey Silverado and a grey Silverado is in a bar parking lot, Oscar is probably inside. But that evidence is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Lots of people drive grey Silverados. Moreover, even if the license plate number matches, Oscar’s son, who frequently borrows his dad’s pickup, could be the person in the store.
Almost all DWI cases involve Breathalyzer tests. Police officers only administer blood tests in limited situations. And, although they have a Constitutional right to refuse, most people voluntarily provide samples.
Challenging Breathalyzer Test Results in Brainard and Crow Wing County
Contrary to popular myth, a Brainerd DWI lawyer can successfully challenge Breathalyzer test results. We discussed some technical flaws above. Now, let’s look at some scientific flaws. Some possible issues include:
- Mouth Alcohol: If the defendant burps, vomits, or belches in the fifteen minutes prior to the test, alcohol particles from the stomach rush into the mouth and skew the results. Officers are supposed to watch subjects closely in the fifteen minutes before they test. But the law doesn’t enforce this monitoring period very closely.
- Temperature Issues: As mentioned, Breathalyzers are very sensitive instruments. They are particularly sensitive to air temperature changes. The mercury often rises or falls quickly in Minnesota. Body temperature could be a factor as well. A 1.8-degree fever, which is probably not high enough to call in sick, could affect Breathalyzer results by 7 percent.
- Ketone Levels: The liver secretes ketones to convert glucose into energy. Diabetics usually have very high ketone levels. So do smokers and certain dieters. Most Breathalyzers read ketones as ethanol. Therefore, in many situations, the Breathalyzer result is artificially high.
To point out these flaws to jurors, especially in a .08, .09, or other borderline BAC case, Brainerd DWI lawyers often partner with degreed chemists. Such professionals are much more credible than the Breathalyzer techs whom prosecutors usually rely on.
No-Evidence DWI Cases
Other test cases are no-evidence cases. There is no evidence, or a clear lack of evidence, on a non-driving element.
Now assume Oscar met his son Felix at the bar. They both get drunk. On the way home, Oscar rear-ends Jack. By the time officers arrive, both Oscar and Jack have exited the vehicle. Unless a credible eyewitness saw Oscar behind the wheel, prosecutors would be hard pressed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was driving the truck.
Call Today to Speak With a Brainerd DWI Lawyer at Carlson & Jones
Because of the serious nature of a DWI, you need a serious lawyer. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Brainerd, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.
This article was originally published on May 20, 2018 and updated on June 17, 2021.