Every year we see some kind of tweaking and modification of Minnesota’s DWI laws, usually to make penalties harsher. This year had a mix of changes that seem small but will have a big impact on many people who are arrested for DWI. There were also some long-awaited changes to the DWI vehicle forfeiture law that will reduce the number of vehicles being seized during DWI arrests and give innocent owners a chance to get their vehicles back sooner. Here’s a rundown of the new changes for 2021:
IGNITION INTERLOCK REQUIREMENT CHANGES
Minnesota has a relatively complicated framework to determine the length of license revocation (90 days, 180 days, one year, two years, three years, six years) and the options for driving during the revocation period (limited license versus ignition interlock). These variables can change depending on numerous factors including alcohol level, test refusal, prior history within ten years, prior history outside ten years, age of the offender, etc. Since 2011, individuals who faced a license revocation/cancellation of 3 years or more have been required to participate in the ignition interlock program before their license could be fully valid again. People who were facing shorter revocation periods had the option of waiting out the revocation period without driving at all if they didn’t want to enroll in the ignition interlock program, but now that has been changed. Now anyone facing a two-year-long revocation period will be required to participate in the interlock program before they can get fully valid to drive. Certain people facing one-year-long revocation periods (those who have a prior offense within ten years or two priors outside ten years) will also be required to participate in the interlock program before they can get fully valid. The new law carves out an exception to these new mandatory interlock requirements if the offender can provide certified records to the DMV proving that they did not own any vehicle at the time of their offense nor at any time during their revocation period. Those people can wait out the revocation period without driving at all and then get fully valid.
Another important change for people who are facing 3 or more years of license revocation/cancellation is that they will no longer be required to have limited license restrictions during their first year of the ignition interlock program. Since 2011 those individuals had to deal with using the ignition interlock PLUS being limited to driving only for work/school purposes for the first year of using the interlock. Now they can drive freely without any restrictions as long as they are enrolled in the interlock program and driving a vehicle equipped with the device.
Yet another change affecting people facing 3 or more years of mandatory ignition interlock concerns what happens when they blow an alcohol result of .02 or higher in the device. Previously this would cause the DMV to restart their sobriety clock, issue a brand new license cancellation and require the driver to re-enroll in the interlock program, including paying a new $680 reinstatement fee and getting a new alcohol assessment and following its recommendations. The amended law will now just keep the person enrolled in the interlock program but will still restart their sobriety clock from the beginning.
DWI KNOWLEDGE TEST SCRAPPED
One welcome change this year will eliminate the requirement for drivers to pass a multiple-choice DWI Knowledge Test at the DMV testing office before they can get valid to drive. This will apply to all revocations occurring on 8/1/21 or after. This test has long been considered more of a nuisance than anything meaningful or useful, and it became especially difficult for people to get this requirement completed during the pandemic. While the DMV eventually started providing the main written driving test online, they never offered the DWI Knowledge Test online. Eliminating this requirement was long overdue.
WHISKEY PLATE EXEMPTION
Another law that has provided some controversy over the years has been notably changed this year, regarding so-called “whiskey plates.” While the new changes haven’t eliminated these special looking plates, it provides an opportunity for people enrolled in the ignition interlock program to be excused from having “whiskey plates” if they pay a $100 fee for each vehicle they own and want to be excused from the plate impoundment. This will be a welcome change not only for offenders themselves but also their family members who may have the offender’s name on the title of the vehicle they use.
NEW LIMITS TO VEHICLE FORFEITURES
The DWI vehicle forfeiture law received some major tweaks as well. The offenses that trigger a vehicle forfeiture have been pared down significantly starting on 1/1/22. The only vehicles that will be eligible for forfeiture starting on that effective date will be vehicles driven by people being charged with a felony-level DWI or people who have at least two prior DWI offenses within ten years. Previously the law also allowed vehicles to be forfeited whenever someone had any combination of at least two “aggravating factors” during their offense. These aggravating factors included prior offenses within ten years, testing at .16 or more, refusing a test, or having passengers under the age of 16 in the vehicle. For example, a first time offender who had a 15-year-old in their vehicle and then refused the test at the station would have their vehicle forfeited. Under the amended law the police would not be able to forfeit that vehicle because the DWI charge would not be a felony and the person had no prior DWI history. The law also previously allowed officers to forfeit a vehicle for anyone whose license had a “no use of alcohol” restriction or a cancelled license due to multiple old DWI offenses. Now the prior offenses have to be within ten years to make a vehicle eligible for forfeiture unless the DWI charge happens to be a felony. The alcohol restriction or cancelled status alone will no longer be a basis to forfeit a vehicle.
ELIMINATION OF A FILING FEE?
From our reading of the new law, it also looks like the legislature removed the requirement to pay a civil filing fee to file a legal challenge to a DWI-related vehicle forfeiture. The new law also created a faster method for “innocent owners” to make a claim for their seized vehicle and have it returned to them if they can show they have an ownership interest in the seized vehicle, were not present during the offense, and had no reason to know about the illegal use of the vehicle by the impaired offender (or knew about it and reported it to the police). Again, all of these changes to the DWI vehicle forfeiture law will apply to forfeitures for offenses occurring on or after 1/1/22.
CHANGES TO THE INTERLOCK VEHICLE RETURN LAW
A relatively new addition to the DWI forfeiture law from 2019 was also tweaked this year. This provision allows offenders to get their seized vehicle back if they enroll in the ignition interlock program and use the seized vehicle for the program. Previously the law enforcement agency could demand the offender to provide a security deposit or bond worth the value of the vehicle before it would be released, but now the offender will only need to turn the physical title over to the police to hold until they complete the interlock program. The law also limited offenders facing felony DWI charges to only be able to get their vehicle back with the interlock if they are also participating in a DWI Court or Drug Court program. Not every County has that available, so this will cause some felony DWI offenders to have no avenue to get their vehicle back with the interlock installed. They will be forced to obtain new vehicles or wait to challenge the forfeiture in court.
MAJOR CHANGES FOR BOATS, ATV’S AND SNOWMOBILES
This year the legislature made some major changes to the way DWI penalties are handled when the offense occurs in a boat, ATV or snowmobile. First, they added a new crime to the books making it a misdemeanor for an owner of these types of motor vehicles (or anyone having “charge or control of” these vehicles) to allow someone to operate the vehicle while impaired. In other words, if you own a boat and you allow someone who is impaired to drive the boat, you will also be charged with a misdemeanor crime.
Second, the law was beefed up to give arresting officers the power to issue notices of loss of operating privileges for boats, ATV’s and snowmobiles whenever someone is arrested for any DWI in any type of vehicle. Previously an arresting officer only had that power if the offense actually happened in one of those classes of vehicles. Now they will have the power to take operating privileges for all types of vehicles regardless of the vehicle type used to commit the offense. The law already provided for the loss of these extra operating privileges after someone got convicted in court for the DWI, but in practice the government had a hard time implementing this after the conviction. We assume the legislature wanted to provide another avenue to take these extra operating privileges right away.
Third, anyone who is required to participate in the ignition interlock program can only operate a boat, ATV, or snowmobile if it is also equipped with an ignition interlock device. We have never even heard of the possibility of these devices being installed in anything other than a passenger vehicle, but perhaps the technology is available now or will be available soon.
As always feel free to contact us if youhave any questions regarding your rights.