It’s dark and it’s cold in Minnesota and the holidays are upon us. This means my phone is about to ring, and on the other end of the line will be someone who just got arrested for the second time in ten years for driving while impaired (DWI).
The consequences of a second alcohol related driving offense are quite harsh, and it seems to me that they come as quite a surprise to many. The punishments for a first offense are quite light by comparison, particularly if your lawyer did a good job. Sometimes that’s one of the things I worry about when I have gotten a particularly good outcome for a client: that my client won’t realize how serious this could have been, and will therefore be more likely to offend again.
The first offense is usually a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail or both, unless there was some aggravating factor. The most common aggravating factors are having a breath test reading of over .20 or having a minor child in the car, and having such a factor could result in even a first offense being a gross misdemeanor. The second offense in ten years, however, is always at least a gross misdemeanor – punishable by $3,000 or a year in jail or both. If you continue to accumulate alcohol-related driving offenses, the fourth one in a ten year period can be a felony – and could involve a trip to Stillwater State Prison. The legalese for this process is “enhancement.” Each offense enhances the next.
Along with increased criminal penalties, the time one goes without being able to drive keeps getting extended for longer periods with each offense. After a third offense drivers are often classified as “inimical to public safety,” which is like becoming a second class citizen who will not be allowed to drive for several years if ever again.
You’d think the foregoing would be enough, but it’s not necessarily the worst of it. For many the most embarrassing thing for a second time offender is that he or she is issued special license plates — called “whisky plates” because they often start with the letters “WX.” It usually seems that lots of fellow employees in the employee parking lot know what that means, particularly if the person who has the special plates happens to be the boss.
Perhaps the worst thing is what happens to the car the offender is driving when it’s a second offense with one of those aggravating factors – such as testing above .20. In that event the police seize that vehicle. Forever in most cases. There are some limited circumstances under which the car can be recovered by the owner; but most of the time that car is gone and stays gone. If the car belongs to the driver’s wife, mother, husband, girlfriend, aunt, uncle or employer, the state does not care. Unless the owner can show that the driver did not have permission to drive that vehicle, it usually makes no difference that it belongs to someone else.
For those who wish to try to get the vehicle back, the seizure has to be challenged with a petition filed in district court; and the time allowed for doing so is very short. Winning such challenges is not easy.
In other words, if you happen to already have a first DWI offense on your record, you absolutely must not let that happen again.