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Driving Under the Influence penalties, time for state review

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Recently a West Fargo family was killed when their vehicle was struck head-on by a drunk driver. The individual was driving the wrong way on the interstate with a blood alcohol content nearly three times the per se limit in North Dakota. The tragedy was entirely preventable. The incident has also sparked considerable discussion on how to prevent people from drinking and driving.

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In North Dakota, a person convicted of driving under the influence is guilty of a class B misdemeanor for the first or second driving under the influence offense in a five-year period. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor can include a maximum penalty of thirty days' imprisonment, a fine of one thousand dollars, or both, may be imposed.

A third driving under the influence offense in a five-year or a fourth offense in a seven-year period is a class A misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor may include a maximum penalty of one year's imprisonment, a fine of two thousand dollars, or both, may be imposed.

A fifth or subsequent driving under the influence offense in a seven-year period is a class C felony for. A class C felony may include a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment, a fine of five thousand dollars, or both, may be imposed.

North Dakota has established minimum mandatory sentencing for driving under the influence. For a first driving under the influence offense, the sentence must include both a fine of at least two hundred fifty dollars and an order for addiction evaluation by an appropriate licensed addiction treatment program.

For a second offense within five years, the sentence must include at least five days' imprisonment or placement in a minimum security facility, of which forty-eight hours must be served consecutively, or thirty days' community service; a fine of at least five hundred dollars; and an order for addiction evaluation by an appropriate licensed addiction treatment program.

For a third offense within five years, the sentence must include at least sixty days' imprisonment or placement in a minimum security facility, of which forty-eight hours must be served consecutively; a fine of one thousand dollars; and an order for addiction evaluation by an appropriate licensed addiction treatment program.

For a fourth or subsequent offense within seven years, the sentence must include one hundred eighty days' imprisonment or placement in a minimum security facility, of which forty-eight hours must be served consecutively; a fine of one thousand dollars; and an order for addiction evaluation by an appropriate licensed treatment program.

In comparison, Minnesota has much different penalties. In Minnesota criminal penalties upon conviction for Driving While Intoxicated are tiered, as follows:

Fourth-Degree DWI - misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days of jail and a $1,000 fine (for the person's first impaired driving violation within ten years without test refusal or any aggravating factors)

Third-Degree DWI - a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year of jail and a $3,000 fine (for the person's second impaired driving violation within ten years or first such violation with test refusal or another aggravating factor)

Second-Degree DWI - also a gross misdemeanor (for the person's third impaired driving violation within ten years or second such violation with test refusal or one other aggravating factor, or first such violation with two aggravating factors)

First-Degree DWI - felony, punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment and a $14,000 fine (for the person's fourth impaired driving violation within ten years or anytime following a previous felony DWI or criminal vehicular operation conviction; other aggravating factors are not considered)

The aggravating factors include a qualified prior impaired driving incident within the preceding ten years; an alcohol concentration of .20 or more upon arrest (but not for first-degree DWI); or the presence of a child under age 16 in the vehicle.

The next North Dakota Legislative session may include proposed changes to current penalties relating to driving under the influence. Regardless the penalty, the ultimate responsibility of making the responsible decision not to drink and drive is on the person who takes that first drink. Know your limit, don't drink and drive.

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