Opinion: It’s in your court: The DWI headache

Have you ever had too much to drink and woke up with a headache? You probably thought, “I wish I hadn’t had that last drink.” At New Year’s with its usual gatherings, it is wise to remember that along with the parties all too often comes tragedy. Each year about 40,000 people are arrested for DWI — just in Minnesota. Sadly, about 40 percent of those will be arrested for DWI again. I have seen thousands of these cases in my legal career. Many families are truly destroyed by the consequences.

While the most tragic harm from impaired driving involves the lives that are ended or bodies and families that are irreparably damaged, DWI also carries with it tremendous monetary costs, even for those cases that do not involve crashes.

Just what are the monetary costs of a “typical” first-time DWI in Minnesota? First, you may have been held in the jail overnight. The jail wants to be compensated. The fee is about $100 per night. Next, you will want to hire an attorney. Expect to spend at least $1,000 in fees. Many attorneys charge much more. Is an attorney necessary? Yes. An attorney will be able to advise you as to your rights. She will also be able to determine what defenses are available to you.

Your case might go to trial which could increase your legal fees; however, most are resolved earlier. Many involve a guilty plea. If you plead guilty, expect to receive a fine of about $500. Your fine will carry with it surcharges and fees totaling $85. The law also requires that you obtain an alcohol problem assessment. Unless your insurance covers it, that will set you back an additional $120. You will likely be required to go to an informational class and/or a “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” victim impact panel. Between them you will pay about $250.

A conviction will also get you put on probation for one to two years. The probation fee is typically about $200. The State will also revoke your driver’s license. To get it back you must pay a reinstatement fee of about $700. Finally, your insurance rates will increase. Rates could triple because you will now be considered to be a higher risk driver. If you were paying $1,500 per year for insurance, you will begin paying $4,500 per year. This will last for at least three years. That is an extra $6,000 in insurance costs.

The total is now nearly $9,000 of direct out-of-pocket costs. Add to this the intangible costs of missed work, social stigma and embarrassment. Remember that headache from drinking too much? It just got a lot worse.

The best advice is not to drive after drinking. Remember, no one ever woke up wishing he had consumed one more drink the night before. Save yourself the headache and the expenses. More importantly, help prevent needless tragedy on our roads.

Judge Steve Halsey comments: Another consequence of a DWI involving a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20 or more is vehicle forfeiture. The state will take your motor vehicle even it is driven by a member of your family unless you can prove that you were unaware of the driver’s alcohol problem. In addition, if you are placed on an alcohol monitoring device or house arrest, there is a daily fee for the monitoring equipment. Please consider all of the possible consequences of drinking at a softball tournament or family picnic or wedding, or going on a “Girls (Guys) Night Out,” and driving there after even though impaired by alcohol or drugs. It could end up having been very expensive entertainment. If you seriously injure or kill someone, including your own passenger, you may end up in prison. — Washington County Judge Gregory Galler (Editor’s note: This article was authored by Hon. Greg Galler, a district court judge chambered in Washington County. Before that he practiced law in Stillwater. These columns provide general information about Minnesota’s courts. Nothing in his columns should be understood to constitute legal advice. This article was submitted by Wright County District Court Judge Steve Halsey.)


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