Minnesota. Land of cold winters, Vikings football, and professional wrestler politicians. Among its many unique features, The North Star State boasts some of the most unusual drunk driving laws in the country--particularly those that apply to the preliminary stages of DUI arrests.
In the interest of establishing a federal standard, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has long recommended a .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration standard for determining DUI. However, legal BAC limits are set at the state level, and until August of 2006, Minnesota was using .10 BAC as the threshold level of legal intoxication, unusual since almost every other state had already begun recognizing the .08 standard.
In August, the law was changed and the new threshold became .08. However, this change still did not bring Minnesota DUI laws into line with the majority of states. The state still maintains its peculiar policy of allowing arrested drunk driving suspects to contact an attorney before submitting to a blood, breath, or urine test. These tests are standard techniques for determining a person's BAC as well as the type of substance causing the alleged intoxication. The more a suspect can delay their test by attempting to locate an attorney, the lower their BAC levels. Most states are aware of this fact, and do not present suspects with the option of contacting a lawyer to ensure a more accurate BAC reading.
Despite this provision, most Minnesota DUI suspects who are arrested and speak with an attorney eventually submit to blood alcohol testing. One possible reason for the widespread acquiescence to testing is that anyone who is arrested and outright refuses to take a blood alcohol or intoxicant test will be subjected to license revocation for at least a year. This provision is crucial to suspects, since not all DUI arrests result in long-term license suspensions.
After a person is arrested for DUI in Minnesota, an administrative proceeding is initiated at the office of the Minnesota driving authority. The outcome of this hearing and the arrestee's ability to comply with the administrative requirements in a timely fashion will help determine how long the he or she will be without a driver's license. Next, a criminal court proceeding is initiated. This is generally the focal point of the post-arrest process, since the outcome of the criminal trial will determine whether or not the incident will be supported by a conviction and if so, whether or not the conviction will be for a misdemeanor or a felony.
As is the custom, the prosecutor may proceed on two possible theories, the per se or the common law theory. In the per se theory, the prosecution will present evidence showing that arrestee's blood alcohol level was above the legal limit at the time of arrest. Of course, blood alcohol test results are not always reliable, so even though the per se theory seems like it would support an "open and shut" case, there is actually substantial room for argument on both sides of the per se liability issue.
When the per se theory is inconclusive or supported by insufficient evidence, the prosecution will use the common law driving while intoxicated theory. Under this theory evidence from the time of arrest may be introduced in the form of the officer's statements regarding the arrestee's overall appearance, driving pattern, speaking pattern, smell of alcohol, and performance on field sobriety tests.
Regardless of the theory, if the criminal proceeding results in a conviction the penalties are harsh. A first time offender in Minnesota can expect up to 90 days in jail and fines and fees that may run into the thousands of dollars. Although Minnesota's rules surrounding DUI arrests uniquely appear to benefit the accused, once the infraction reaches the courts the sentences can be just as severe as anywhere else in America.