Minnesota is one of only a handful of states that makes it a crime to refuse to submit to an official blood, breath or urine test after being arrested on suspicion of DWI / DUI. While that basic idea sounds simple, there are many misconceptions about how the crime is committed, what the penalties are, and whether it is ever better to refuse a test in Minnesota. It has gotten confusing enough that many attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and police officers do not fully understand the entirety of Minnesota’s test refusal law.
The first concept to understand is the definition of the test refusal crime itself. It is important to understand that the test refusal crime has nothing to do with refusing a preliminary breath test (PBT) before being arrested. It is NOT a crime to refuse the PBT, nor does refusal of the PBT come with any license/license plate consequences. The crime of test refusal only applies to the refusal to submit to a breath test offered at the station/jail after being arrested and being read the Minnesota Implied Consent Advisory, or if you refuse to submit to a blood or urine test after an officer gets a search warrant.
It is also important to understand the severity of the test refusal crime. In Minnesota, a typical first time DWI crime starts out as a misdemeanor (maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine). A DWI can become a gross misdemeanor (maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and a $3,000 fine) or a felony (maximum penalty of 7 years in prison and a $14,000 fine) if there are “aggravating factors” present such as passengers in the vehicle under the age of 16, qualified prior impaired driving offenses (convictions or license revocations) within ten years, or having an alcohol level of .16 or more on the official blood, breath or urine test (not the PBT). By contrast, a test refusal crime starts out as a gross misdemeanor and can become even more serious if the person has passengers in the vehicle under the age of 16 or has qualified prior impaired driving offenses within the past ten years.
Because the crime of test refusal always starts as a gross misdemeanor, most of the time a person is better off taking the official breath, blood or urine test instead of refusing it. This is especially true for someone who has none of the aggravating factors mentioned above. Most people (even people who work in this field) hear this and automatically assume it is ALWAYS better to take the test in Minnesota. That was certainly the goal of the Minnesota Legislature when they amended the test refusal crime years ago to change it from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. However, for FIRST time offenders who would likely test at or over .16 on the official test, the consequences are much better for refusing the test once you consider the other related penalties.
For FIRST time offenders who test at .16 or more on the official blood, breath or urine test, the driving privilege penalties are much worse than the penalties for refusing the test, even though both would be a gross misdemeanor crime. Examine this summary of driving penalties for each scenario:
First time offender testing at .16 or more on the official blood, breath or urine test:
- License revocation for one year with NO opportunity to reduce the length of the revocation period.
- Only option for driving during the revocation period is on the ignition interlock program (costs between $80-130 per month after initial installation fee of $150-200).
- Must have special registration plates (whiskey plates) for one year on all vehicles registered (solely or jointly) in the offender’s name plus the vehicle used during the commission of the DWI / DUI.
First time offender refusing to submit to the official blood, breath or urine test:
- License revocation for one year with automatic reduction down to 90 or 30 days depending on how the criminal case is resolved.
- May drive with a regular limited license (work permit) during the revocation period, but also has the option to do the ignition interlock program for more freedom to drive any time.
- No license plate penalties at all (no whiskey plates).
All three of those penalties are drastically different and lean heavily in favor of refusing a test versus testing at or over .16 for FIRST time offenders.
Keep in mind that it is ALWAYS better to take the official test if the driver is certain they will test under .16. This analysis ONLY applies to FIRST time offenders (and people with exactly ONE qualified prior offense outside ten years) who have a chance of testing at .16 or more.
There are a few other scenarios that can change the default analysis above, which is why it is always best to exercise your right to contact an experienced 24-hour DWI / DUI defense attorney like The DWI Guys if you get arrested. ALWAYS call an attorney before taking (or refusing) the official test! We are available 24 hours, 7 days a week at 1-800-DWI-GUYS.