A man with a history of drunk driving, who was caught driving drunk in Newport over the long weekend, will not be charged with felony drunk driving.
Paul Garay, 55, is going to prison either way. He was ordered held on a parole violation and will have to serve 10 months remaining on a 90-month sentence, the Woodbury Bulletin reported.
This is one of the stories where the headlines lead to more outrage than the facts. It can sound like a lenient judge or lax drunk driving laws in Minnesota, but neither is true.
The law is funny like that.
Here’s what has to happen for a drunk driving conviction as a felony:
Minnesota criminal law defines the term felony to mean any crime for which incarceration of more than one year may be imposed. Under Minnesota’s felony DWI law, a person who commits first-degree DWI is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to:
>>imprisonment for not more than seven years
(or more than seven years if the person has
other prior criminal history);
>> a fine of not more than $14,000;or both.
A person is guilty of first-degree DWI if the
person violates DWI law:
>> within ten years of three or more qualified
prior impaired driving incidents (defined as
prior convictions or license revocations for
separate impaired driving incidents); or
>> has previously been convicted of a felony
DWI crime; or
>> has previously been convicted of a felony level
crime of criminal vehicular homicide or injury (CVO) involving alcohol or
You can read the law starting on page 7 here.
While the headlines note Garay’s 20 DWI arrests, only two have occurred in the last 10 years. He can still get a year in jail and $3,000 fine if he’s convicted of the charges, which would put him behind bars until late 2012. He’ll lose his license and probably the vehicle he was driving.
It may not be as tough as some would like, but the law in Minnesota is tougher than in some other states. In Montana, for example, there’s an effort underway to crack down on drunk driving by adopting language similar to Minnesota’s law.
Tinkering with the present Minnesota law, however, invites scenario-playing. Should the 10-year clause be removed? If so, that would lead to felony charges and prison time for someone who had two DUIs as, say, a 20 year old, and then had another as a 50-year old.
What’s the solution?