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A Minnesota DUI (known in Minnesota as DWI or Driving While Impaired) is a criminal offense, not a minor traffic violation.

In fact, a fourth offense within 10 years is a felony. An underage DUI, which applies if you were under 21 at the time of the offense, can be even more serious than an ordinary DUI.

If Minnesota has charged you with underage DUI, you should seriously consider hiring a lawyer to defend you.

What Is Minnesota’s “Not a Drop” Principle For Underage DUI Charges?

Underage DWI charges are different from ordinary DWI charges. If you are under 21, the legal limit of alcohol in your body (your maximum legal BAC level) is precisely 0.0%. This is known as Minnesota’s “not a drop” principle. 

You are guilty of underage DUI if you drive with any detectable level of alcohol in your system. This principle also applies to other intoxicating substances, such as marijuana or cocaine. 

You have the right to an attorney, and you need to exercise this right immediately if the police arrest you for underage DUI.

 What is the Underage DUI Penalty? 

If you are over 16 years of age and charged with DUI in Minnesota, your case will be prosecuted in adult court. This means that you’ll receive adult penalties if convicted.

The penalties for a DUI in Minnesota include:

  • Up to 90 days in jail and a possible fine of up to $1,000. The penalties for subsequent offenses are more severe. 
  • The State will suspend your driving privileges for 30 days for a first offense, with longer suspensions for subsequent offenses. Under Vanessa’s law, if you were under 18 at the time of your offense, you won’t be able to get a driver’s license until you turn 18 and overcome additional reinstatement hurdles. 
  • If your BAC was 0.08% or more (which would qualify you for DWI even if you were over 21), Minnesota could suspend your license for a year upon your second offense.

You can also face suspension of your license for refusing a chemical test designed to detect intoxicants in your body. And remember that refusing such a test does not necessarily save you from getting hit with a DWI charge.

Other Disadvantages of a DWI Conviction

Other negative consequences of an underage DUI conviction include:

  • The State is likely to impound your vehicle;
  • Your auto insurance rates are likely to increase much more than they would for an older DUI offender;
  • Colleges and universities are more likely to reject your admissions application; and  
  • Potential employers are less likely to hire you.

These are not the only disadvantages you might face, even years after your conviction.

Underage DUI Defense

There are many possible defenses against an underage DUI charge:

  • If your BAC reading was extremely low (0.01%, for example), you can assert that the Breathalyzer machine’s margin of error is too large for the results to prove that you were actually under the influence of alcohol.
  • If your BAC was very low, it is likely that your driving did not reflect alcohol-related impairment, and your lawyer could challenge the officer’s right to pull you over in the first place. Your lawyer could then move to exclude all evidence against you and dismiss your case. 
  • Your lawyer may be able to argue that the officer improperly administered the intoxication test that the State is using against you.
  • If the police stopped you at an illegal DWI checkpoint, your lawyer might be able to get the case dismissed. DWI checkpoints where the police stop every vehicle to check for intoxicated driving are illegal in Minnesota, even though they are legal (with restrictions) in most other states.

Your lawyer might have dozens of other defenses to choose from, depending on the facts of your case.

Plea Bargaining

In a plea bargain, you agree to plead guilty to the same or a lesser offense in return for a lighter sentence than you’d get if you took the case to trial and lost. Prosecutors use plea bargaining to avoid trial.

If you cannot qualify for a complete dismissal or acquittal, you might qualify for a favorable plea bargain. 

For example, you might use weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case as leverage to obtain a plea bargain where you plead guilty to underage drinking (with no reference to driving). This is a less serious offense than an underage DUI. 

Take Action Immediately

A conviction for underage DUI is no laughing matter. While no lawyer can ever guarantee the outcome of any case, we can tell you that we have successfully resolved many underage DUI cases for our clients over the years.

Contact Arechigo & Stokka online or call us at (651) 877-6963 to schedule a consultation. We serve clients throughout Minnesota.

Author Photo John T. Arechigo, Esq.

Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense in St. Paul, MN. John received his J.D., from Hamline University School of Law and also carries a Bachelor of Arts from, The University of Minnesota. John was named Attorney of the Year for 2019 by Minnesota Lawyer. Additionally, John was also named as a 2019 Rising Star and was selected to Minnesota Super Lawyers in 2021. He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime.

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