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Thousands of Minnesotans enjoy snowmobiling, ATV riding, and boating throughout the year, but a sweeping change in Minnesota’s DWI laws this year will cause DWI offenders in a regular motor vehicle to lose operating privileges for those recreational modes of transportation.  Conversely, all DWI offenders on boats, snowmobiles, and ATV’s will now lose their regular driver’s licenses too.

The new penalties are in response to the tragic death of an 8-year-old boy named Alan after he was struck by a snowmobiler in Chicago County who had been drinking.  The offender was not prohibited from operating the snowmobile despite having a revoked driver’s license due to multiple DWI offenses with regular motor vehicles.  In response, the Legislature has decided to take away driving/operating privileges for motor vehicles, boats, snowmobiles & ATV’s from ALL DWI offenders regardless of prior history or the type of transportation used to commit the offense.  The new laws apply to acts committed on or after August 1, 2018, so any pending cases before that time do not qualify for the new penalties.

NEW PENALTIES FOR DWI OFFENDERS DRIVING A REGULAR MOTOR VEHICLE

Any DWI arrest in a regular motor vehicle will still result in the loss of the regular driver’s license, and the length of time still varies depending on prior incidents, the alcohol level, and whether the person refused testing.  For example, a first time offender who tests between .08-.15 loses their license for 90 days (eligible to be reduced to 30 days if convicted of DWI), but if you test at .16 or more it jumps to one year and comes with impoundment of license plates (whiskey plates).  These penalties typically start one week after the arrest, before the person is convicted of the underlying DWI/test refusal crime.

Under the new law, any DWI offender in a regular motor vehicle who is later convicted of the DWI in court will receive a notice in the mail from the Commissioner of Public Safety of the additional loss of snowmobile & ATV operating privileges for one year and boat operating privileges for 90 days.  The loss of boating privileges applies between May 1st and October 31st, so any portion of the 90-day period falling outside that window gets carried over into the next year starting on May 1st until the 90 days are done.

Convictions for test refusal after being arrested for DWI while driving a regular motor vehicle will result in loss of all three recreational operating privileges for one full year.  The longer loss of boating privileges specifically for test refusal may change the testing decision for certain first-time offenders who would otherwise benefit from refusing the test but want to limit their loss of boating privileges.

NEW PENALTIES FOR DWI OFFENDERS OPERATING A BOAT, SNOWMOBILE OR ATV

A first time DWI on a boat, snowmobile, or ATV will now result in loss of the regular driver’s license one week after the offense date, just like when a person is driving a regular motor vehicle for a DWI.  They will also face impoundment of license plates (whiskey plates) within one week if their alcohol level is .16 or more.  Before this new law was passed, a first time offender on these recreational modes of transportation would not lose their regular driver’s license or get license plates impounded.  That would have only happened if the person had any prior impaired driving convictions or license revocations in their lifetime.

The new law also causes all offenders on boats, snowmobiles and ATV’s to lose operating privileges of all three of those types of recreational vehicles if they are convicted of the underlying DWI/test refusal in criminal court.  Before this law was passed, people using one of these recreational modes of transportation to commit a DWI never lost the operating privileges for the other two modes of recreational transportation; they would have only lost operating privileges for the type of transportation they used (plus loss of the regular driver’s license if they had any prior impaired transportation convictions or license revocations).

UNDERAGE DRINK & DRIVE CHANGES

In another small but important change, the new law expands the Underage Drinking & Driving criminal offense to include boats and off-road vehicles, which had previously been excluded.  Any drop of alcohol while operating a boat or off-road vehicle will now qualify people under 21 for Underage Drinking & Driving charges.  An “off-road vehicle” is defined as a motor-driven recreational vehicle capable of cross-country travel on natural terrain without benefit of a road or trail, but not including a snowmobile, ATV, or motorcycle.  Those other vehicles were already eligible for Underage Drinking & Driving charges.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE IN ONE OF THESE SITUATIONS?

In a nutshell, you can now expect to lose driving/operating privileges for regular motor vehicles, boats, snowmobiles and ATV’s regardless of the type of vehicle you used during the actual offense.  You will lose your regular driver’s license before being convicted in criminal court but will not lose the recreational operating privileges until after being convicted.  No matter what type of vehicle was used to commit the offense, you can challenge the loss of the regular driver’s license in civil court, which ideally should be done with an experienced DWI attorney as soon as possible after being arrested.  There is a strict 60-day deadline to file this civil judicial review in court, so do NOT wait until you go to court for the criminal charges.

There are numerous other combinations of factors that can affect the length and starting point of the penalties discussed in this article, which makes it even more important to have quality legal representation for any type of DWI you may be facing.  Do NOT attempt to determine what these penalties will be on your own, as the laws are confusing even to seasoned attorneys at this point.  Also, do not expect to be warned in court by the prosecutor or the judge about these additional penalties that only get triggered by a criminal conviction.  There is no requirement for an individual to be informed of these new collateral consequences before deciding to plead guilty to a DWI or test refusal crime.  Contact the DWI Guys today for more information and for award-winning DWI representation throughout the State of Minnesota.