Many people who face DWI charges in Minnesota have never been in trouble with the law before. They are often surprised about how complex the process is and how long it can take. It’s hard to know what to expect from the system.
Here we provide you with some details about what you can expect from the legal process when facing a DWI charge.
It Starts When the Lights Go On Behind You
The first step in the DWI process occurs the moment the police lights appear in your rearview mirror. If—at a traffic stop or the scene of an accident—the police suspect that you have been drinking, they will likely conduct field sobriety testing. Field sobriety tests may include roadside exercises, like walking in a line or following a pen with your eyes. You may also be asked to blow into a handheld breath tester. If you fail the Breathalyzer test, the police will probably make an arrest. They will also notify the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and your driver’s license may be taken.
After the Arrest–Fingerprinting and Chemical Testing
After the arrest, you will be taken to the police station. You will be fingerprinted and potentially required to submit to additional chemical testing. These blood or urine tests are performed to back up any tests that were performed at the scene, verifying that there is alcohol in your bloodstream.
Officers must follow certain procedures when conducting chemical tests. If they fail to do so, your attorney may effectively challenge the tests’ validity. This could lead to a court keeping tests from being used as evidence against you.
If this is not your first DWI arrest or if there are other aggravating factors, you may be held in jail or a detox facility. Bail may be required for you to gain the privilege of going home. In Minnesota, bail can go as high as $12,000 for cases that the court determines are serious. As an alternative to the high price of bail, “pre-trial monitoring” may be ordered, which requires the accused to wear an ankle bracelet throughout the process.
Your first court appearance is called an arraignment. In it, the court will make sure that you know you’re being charged with a crime and will advise you of your rights. You will probably be asked to enter a plea— “guilty” or “not guilty.” If you have an attorney, he or she may be able to represent you at the arraignment so that you don’t have to miss work to attend.
Hearings and a Plea Deal or a Trial
Each case is different, especially considering that any given DWI case can become a complex matter. Many people are required to attend multiple hearings. These include:
- A pre-trial conference, in which your attorney can discuss your case with the prosecutor and negotiate a good plea deal.
- An implied consent hearing, in which your attorney will fight to protect your driver’s license.
- A suppression hearing, where your lawyer will fight to keep illegally collected or inaccurate evidence from being used against you at trial.
- Sentencing, which occurs if you accept a plea deal or lose at trial. Sentences can include jail time, house arrest, community service, alcohol classes and fines.
If you choose not to accept a plea deal, your case will proceed to trial. Your attorney can advise you about the best course of action. The right thing to do will depend on the facts of your case, including your prior history, the charges against you and the strength of the evidence. Talking with a DWI defense attorney is the best way to learn exactly what to expect in your case.