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No lowering of aggravated DWI

Published (3/4/2010)
By Mike Cook
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Penalties will not change for those whose blood-alcohol concentration level is double the state limit. A bill, HF2979, that would lower the threshold for an enhanced penalty was defeated by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee on a split-voice vote March 2.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Rosenthal (DFL-Edina), the bill would have lowered the BAC from 0.20 percent to 0.16 percent as an aggravating factor under DWI law. It has no Senate companion.

“When we lowered the limit from .10 to .08, we didn’t correspondingly lower the aggravating number,” Rosenthal said. “We’re just making the statement that we think it should be double as it originally was.”

Current law establishes a number of increased penalties for an aggravated DWI, including double applicable license revocation periods and plate impoundment.

“The average alcohol concentration of somebody arrested for a DWI is .16,” said Steve Simon, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. “People at a .16 have been doing a lot of drinking on a regular basis. …That lowered number accurately reflects people who have a serious problem, not with the responsible use, but the abuse of alcohol.”

An estimated 7,500 drivers now charged with misdemeanor DWI would be charged with the more serious gross misdemeanor.

Rep. Paul Kohls (R-Victoria), a self-described “very reluctant supporter” of moving to 0.08 percent, suspects increased county costs for more jail time.

“There’s a huge expense both to the state with doing this and there’s collateral consequences to a lot of individuals who maybe made a really bad decision once,” Kohls said. “Unless I can be convinced that we’re going to dramatically increase public safety by making this change, I’m not sure it’s something that I’m ready to support.”

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