Banner-Evaluation of Minnesota's High-BAC Law

3. Evaluation of Minnesota's High-BAC Law

Interviews with Experts

Effects on Case Dispositions and Penalties.

It was the consensus that the high-BAC law had increased the severity of case dispositions among high-BAC offenders. It was reported that as a result of the law, prosecutors and judges have become much more reluctant to allow a high-BAC offender to plead guilty to a non-DWI related charge such as reckless driving. In addition, it was reported that after the law, many judges became unwilling to reduce a high-BAC offense to a standard offense except under limited extenuating circumstances. Some judges and prosecutors perceived the high-BAC statute as creating another level of plea bargaining, that is, an offender can now plea from a high-BAC DWI offense to a low-BAC DWI offense.

Interviews were conducted with judges and prosecutors located in various types of jurisdictions, including rural, suburban, and urban areas. Discussions with these experts indicated that courts vary widely in their treatment of high-BAC cases and the imposition of the enhanced penalties required by law. It was noted that the availability of treatment facilities, jail facilities, probation programs, and other resources varies widely among counties and may affect the application of some sanctions. None of the judges indicated that he or she always imposes the mandatory statutory high-BAC penalties. Apparently some impose the penalties as a general rule, but others regard the statutory mandatory penalties as a maximum, rather than a minimum, penalty. Some, but not all, judges reported that high-BAC first-time offenders are likely to serve some jail time. There was also a range of views concerning the application of statutory criminal sanctions for high-BAC repeat offenders. One expert believed that a high-BAC repeat offense would result now in “serious time in jail.” Another expert indicated that the enhanced penalties for high-BAC repeat offenses are “buried in the law” and, thus, not widely applied.

There was a strong sentiment among DWI experts that the administrative license and vehicle sanctions are generally imposed in a consistent and efficient manner by the Department of Public Service. It also was reported that law enforcement officers have increased the extent to which they initiate the vehicle sanctions. One expert estimated that the administrative plate impoundment was currently initiated in about 85 percent of the indicated cases, up from 50 percent several years ago. Legislative staff, sanctioning officials, the Chair of the DWI Task Force, and other interviewees were knowledgeable about the technical aspects of the administrative sanctions and work together to identify problems and address them through procedural or statutory changes.

Although some states report considerable problems with a large number of appeals of administrative license revocations, this did not appear to be the case in Minnesota. Minnesota law provides for two independent review processes for administrative license revocations. The administrative review is rarely used. In 1998, only about 1 percent of the total revocations were appealed administratively, and 5.5 percent of the appeals (less than 0.1 percent of all revocations) resulted in a rescission of the revocation. Almost 12 percent of the total revocations underwent a judicial review, and 13.6% of these appeals (1.6 percent of all revocations) resulted in a rescission. An increase in appeals in 1998 was attributed to the law, effective January 1, 1998, that allowed implied consent revocations to be used for penalty enhancements for repeat offenses (Cleary, Shapiro, 2001).

It was noted by the public defenders interviewed that they do not represent offenders in the administrative processes. Thus, they believed that the increased emphasis on administrative penalties has adversely affected less affluent offenders who rely on public defenders for court representation and cannot afford an attorney for the administrative hearing.