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Minnesota to lower threshold for harsher DWI penalties

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Starting in August, some drivers who are arrested for drunk driving could face stiffer penalties.

Drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration level of 0.16 will now face gross misdemeanor charges. That's lower than the previous standard. Under the new law passed by the legislature, the "enhanced" DWI limit will be amended from 0.20 to 0.16. The legal limit of misdemeanor DWIs remains at 0.08.

The Star Tribune reports the change could affect could affect thousands of drivers who are pulled over. The paper's anaylsis found it could result in nearly 3,000 additional gross misdemeanor DWI charges per year if averages from previous years continue.

According to the Minnesota DWI Defense blog, as a result those who test at 0.16 are expected to post a "max bail" at $12,000 before they get out of jail.

Offenders would face harsher penalties that include a maximum sentence of up to a year in jail. That's a jump from 90 days at the lower sentencing level. The fine would also increase for as a gross misdemeanor.

Minnesota state sanctions for first-time DWI offenders arrested at twice the legal limit or .016, and second-time offenders will lose driving privileges for one - two years or might have to get an ignition interlock installed.

An ignition interlock device requires a user to blow into a breathalyzer before he or she can start driving. It unlocks only if the alcohol-concentration sample is less than 0.02.

The average level for a DWI offense is 0.15, according to Department of Public Safety. But for repeat offenders, the average BAC is 0.165, the Star Tribune reports.

Nationally, Minnesota has the most repeat offenders at more than 40 percent.

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