Under Minnesota’s DWI laws, an impaired driver’s criminal charges can be “enhanced” or made more serious if:
- The driver has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.16 or more
- The driver has a qualified prior impaired driving incident on record
- There was a child under the age of 16 in the car during the time of the offense
DWI charges can include one or more aggravating factor. But what about having multiple kids in the car during a DWI offense? Do multiple children mean multiple aggravated factors? On July 13, 2015, the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided that multiple kids in a vehicle during a DWI offense counts as a single aggravating factor only.
Multiple Aggravating Factors
The case leading to the court’s decision involved Tarah Louise Fichtner*, a St. Louis County woman arrested for DWI when she drove impaired with her three children in the car. Under normal circumstances, Fichtner would have been charged with a misdemeanor fourth-degree DWI but because she had children in the car, the State charged her with a gross misdemeanor second-degree DWI. What made the case unique is that prosecutors charged Fichtner with more than one aggravating factor. Their argument was that because she had three children in the car, there were multiple aggravating factors – one aggravating factor for each child.
Fichtner made a motion to dismiss the DWI charge arguing that the State improperly enhanced her misdemeanor charge to a gross misdemeanor second-degree DWI. If the State only added one aggravating factor, Fichtner would have been charged with a gross misdemeanor third-degree DWI. The State argued that each child can be deemed a separate aggravating factor to enhance Fichtner’s DWI charge because there is “no language prohibiting the State from using multiple children in a motor vehicle as separate aggravating factors.” The Court of Appeals disagreed with the State’s argument, ruling that the presence of one or more children may constitute only one aggravating factor. The court reasoned that if the legislature wanted to allow for separate children to count as separate aggravating factors, they would have specifically said so but did not. Multiple children present in a vehicle cannot be deemed multiple, stackable aggravating factors.
Keyser Law, P.A. is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense law firm. To learn more about Minnesota DWI laws, explore our website including our DWI blog articles. If you face a DWI charge, call us at (612) 338-5007 for a free consultation.
*Good work to our colleague and fellow criminal defense lawyer Andrew T. Poole in Duluth for his work on this case.