What is the process for DWI defense in Minnesota?
In general, there are two distinct and independent paths in DWI cases: The civil case and the criminal case. The criminal case involves potential fines, jail time and other legal penalties, whereas the civil case involves license revocations, license cancellations and vehicle forfeitures.
It is critical to note that each of these processes operates independently from the other and can proceed at the same time. So, when we represent a client in a DWI case, we are dealing with both the civil and the criminal side simultaneously.
The Civil Case
The civil case is a completely different procedure from the criminal case. It will involve collateral consequences that can include license revocation, license cancelations and even vehicle forfeitures.
The most important difference in the civil case is that you have to proactively assert your rights, or you will lose them. In criminal cases, you are innocent until proven guilty, and the court cannot deprive you of anything without due process of law. On the civil side, the default position is reversed. You will lose your license and possibly your vehicle unless you file the appropriate petitions and preserve the right to fight it.
On the civil side, if you don’t act very quickly, bad things will happen.
It is important to note that the process can be complicated. You should not simply go to the DMV and try to figure it out. And do not assume that a not-guilty verdict outcome or outright dismissal of the criminal case will reverse the administrative process involving your driving privileges. In some cases, we can get driving privileges reinstated before the criminal proceedings have finished, but either way, you need an attorney to walk you through the process, and you need to act fast.
The Criminal Case
The criminal case does not require immediate action to preserve your right to defend yourself in the same way the civil case does. However, it is important to get in touch with an attorney as soon as possible on the criminal side, as well.
- The first hearing
In most DWI defense cases, the person accused will have to appear in court pretty early on in the process. For low-level misdemeanors, your attorney can likely appear on your behalf, but anything higher will likely require your presence.
At the first appearance, we will have to deal with issues surrounding bail, put in a request for all evidence from the police and set the date for the next hearing. The evidence from the police can include audio/visual recordings, the police report, blood-alcohol testing results, etc.
- Preparing your defense
Once we get the evidence from the police, we will make a plan for your defense.
In some cases, it is best to plea to a lesser charge and accept whatever penalties that charge would bring. Usually, this approach is used if the evidence is strong and you are likely going to be convicted of something. If we know we can’t win at trial against the charged levied, it is better to accept a lesser charge.
In cases where the evidence is not so strong, or if there are obvious errors or rights violations that took place during the arrest, we can take a more aggressive approach. Depending on the circumstances, we could seek to have the charges dropped or the case dismissed. If that fails, we can fight the charges aggressively in the courtroom.
- The second hearing
This is where we either enter the plea and move forward or fight the case. Based on the evidence and the details of the case, we will look at the best approach for you and make sure you get the best possible defense.
In general, the criminal DWI case only involves a couple of hearings and lasts a couple of months.
If you have been charged with DWI in Minnesota, it is critical to talk with a lawyer right away to protect your driving privileges on the civil side and protect your rights on the criminal side.