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What is the Difference Between “DWI” and “DUI” in Minnesota?

No matter where you are from in the United States you will know at least one of these terms if you drive drunk – DWI or DUI. “Driving Under the Influence” (DUI) or “Driving While Intoxicated” (DWI) sound like the same thing, and in many cases they are used interchangeably. However, depending on who you ask, or more accurately, what state the person you ask is from, they could have very different meanings to them.

In certain states, they have two different charges for drunk drivers depending on the unique circumstances of the case. Those just below or just above the legal .08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit may find themselves charged with a DUI while those with a Blood Alcohol Content that is much higher than the legal limit will be charged with a DWI. Other states also use these terms to differentiate charges from those drinking and driving and those with other impairments such as impairment from medications or other drugs in their system. While these terms are similar, they mean a very different severity of punishments for those states that use these different terms. This makes knowing the difference between a DUI and a DWI crucial to your legal defense in select states.

However, the question is, where does Minnesota land on the difference between DUI and DWI?

The Use of DUI and DWI in Minnesota

In Minnesota, there is no difference between a DWI charge and a DUI charge. The terms are often used interchangeably, but officially, Minnesota only has one charge – DWI. Minnesota has rather confusingly changed the official statute a few times relating to the nomenclature of a drunk driving charge. It originally began as “Driving While Intoxicated,” then switched to “Driving Under the Influence” as the previous term burdened the state with proving the perpetrator was actually intoxicated instead of just recklessly under the influence. Now, as of 2001, it has been officially switched to “Driving While Impaired” to cover not just alcohol but drug impairment as well as to further lessen the burden of proof need by the state even more. However, everyone from law enforcement to legal counsel in Minnesota will still use any range of terms since they all essentially mean the same thing and the severity of punishment does not change between the terms.

No matter which term was used when you are arrested, in Minnesota it means that you:

  • Drove a motorized vehicle (car, boat, lawnmower, ect) while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.
  • The amount of that substance in your system was above the legal limit. For alcohol, this means a blood, urine, or breath test showed a BAC of .08 or above. For other substances, a blood test while determine if any substance was in your system, the presence of any amount will determine that you were too impaired to drive.

Minnesota has a zero tolerance policy on those who have a BAC above .08 when pulled over. However, even if you are tested with a BAC below the legal limit, you still may find yourself facing charges. They may not be DWI charges, but if you were driving recklessly, this within itself is a crime.

Need Help?

Have you been arrested for drunk driving in Minnesota? Whether the arresting officer called it a DWI or a DUI makes no difference, you are still facing the same charge and the same heavy punishment for the crime. However, if you are proactive in your defense, you may be able to mitigate the potential punishments that come with a DWI charge. If you are in trouble, contact us today to see how Judith Samson can help you.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

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Case Results


County: Scott

Type of Charge: 3rd DWI

Priors: 1 prior

Final Deposition: Plead to a 4th degree DWI

Sentence Imposed: No jail


County: Dakota

Type of Charge: Harassment Order

Priors: None

Final Deposition: Dismissed

Sentence Imposed:


County: Hennepin

Type of Charge: Solicitation of Prostitute

Priors: 1 prior

Final Deposition: Stay of imposition vacate and dismiss

Sentence Imposed: No jail

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