Little Known New Statute on DWI Conditional Releases from Jail

by | Jun 8, 2024 | BWI, DUI, DWI, Firm News, FWI, Minnesota News, Refusal DWI, SWI |

In the realm of traffic laws, few issues command as much attention and concern as driving while impaired (DWI). Minnesota, like many states, has stringent laws designed to curb impaired driving and enhance public safety. One critical piece of this legislative framework is Minnesota Statute 169A.44, which mandates that certain individuals arrested for a DWI be held in jail until a judge sets the conditions of their release.

The Basics of Minnesota Statatute 169A.44

Minnesota Statute 169A.44 addresses the immediate aftermath of a DWI arrest. Under this statute, individuals arrested for DWI who are facing heightened charges must remain in custody until a judge reviews their case and sets mandatory conditions for their release.  Situations falling under this statute apply to those arrested for a DWI and facing charges for:

  • 1st Degree Felony DWI
  • 2nd Degree Gross Misdemeanor DWI
  • 3rd Degree Gross Misdemeanor DWI if the person is under the age of 19
  • Any Gross Misdemeanor DWI with the presence of an aggravating factor (either an alcohol concentration of 0.16+ or having a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle)
  • Any DWI charge while one’s driving privileges have been cancelled as inimical to public safety

The Default Requirements for Release

Prior to enactment of the new subdivision of 169A.44 an individual arrested for DWI under one of the above-mentioned scenarios faced two primary options to avoid remaining in custody:

  • Unconditional Release – The Court will order that the person be released “unconditionally”, meaning they must agree to remain law abiding throughout their case and first post the statutory maximum unconditional amount of bail. This generally involves giving the court a substantial amount of money to hold onto ($12,000.00 in gross misdemeanor DWI cases, and sometimes up to $100,000.00 in felony DWI cases). The money can either be provided in full to the court by the arrested individual (or by someone on their behalf), or by hiring a Bail Bond person who will post the full amount and generally charge 10% as a fee for their services.  This significant financial burden is often prohibitive for many, making it a challenging option.
  • Conditional Release – Abstention and Random Electronic Alcohol Monitoring (“REAM”): The court can also order no monetary bail (or sometimes lower amounts) if the person agrees to certain conditions upon being released.  The statute previously only allowed for release on the condition the person abstain from alcohol use and be subject to continuous monitoring through a portable random electronic alcohol monitoring device (REAM), ensuring compliance.  The individual is generally financially responsible for the REAM device, and they must carry it around with them, every day, throughout the entirety of their case.

New Exception: The Ignition Interlock Device Program

Recognizing the limitations and burdens of the default options, Minnesota Statute 169A.44 subdivision 3 provides an alternative to the aforementioned conditional release option for release: participation in the Ignition Interlock Device Program. Here’s how it works:

  • What is an Ignition Interlock Device? An ignition interlock device (“IID”) is a breathalyzer installed in a vehicle, preventing it from starting if the driver has been drinking. The driver must blow into the device before the car starts, and if any alcohol is detected, the engine will not start. The IID program provides a practical and humane alternative for those arrested for DWI by offering a path that balances public safety with the personal needs of the individual.  More information on the IID program can be found on the State’s website.
  • 44 Subdivision 3 Exception: The newly enacted subdivision to the statute allows for the conditional release of individuals arrested for DWI if they agree to the installation and use of an IID.  The subdivision states that the reviewing judge in DWI custodial arrest situations is not required to order abstention with submission to a program of random electronic alcohol monitoring (REAM) if the person becomes a program participate in the IID program.

Practical Applicability and Pitfalls

From a legal standpoint, the statute gives individuals a better option to be released from custody compared to the costly and intrusive REAM device, however, it also places a greater responsibility on the judiciary to ensure compliance with the exception prior to releasing someone from custody. The courts and probation departments have been hesitant to take on the responsibility of having to monitor a person attempting to get approved for the program upon release, leaving few viable options for practical application of the exception.  Most courts presented with the new exception option at bail hearings have simply reverted to what they are familiar with: ordering unconditional max bail or conditional release on REAM.  However, some courts have recently taken a hybrid approach by initially ordering those two standard options, but also have agreed to readdress the release conditions later at the Defendant’s subsequence hearing.  This means that people who have become an IID program participant could potentially have their monetary cash bail returned, a bail bondsman’s bond discharged, or be taken off the REAM requirement by their very next court appearance.

For individuals arrested and held in jail for DWI, understanding of the Statute and aggressive representation in court is essential.  If you or someone you know is held for a DWI, experienced legal counsel familiar with the law can make a crucial difference in navigating the legal process with greater ease and less financial strain.



FindLaw Network