Criminal Defense

Criminal defense is the practice of law in which your lawyer challenges the criminal charges against you by making the prosecution prove its case. Crimes involving drugs and alcohol can come in many forms, and we specialize in representing people who have been charged with DWIs, possession or sale of controlled substances, and crimes committed while intoxicated.

Alcohol and drugs are implicated in an estimated 80% of offenses leading to incarceration in the United States such as domestic violence, driving while intoxicated, property offenses, drug offenses, and public-order offenses.

For some, treatment may be the solution. However, fewer than 20% of all state and federal inmates who need treatment receive it. Approximately 95% of inmates return to alcohol and drug use after release from prison, and 60 – 80% of drug abusers commit a new crime (typically a drug-driven crime) after release from prison. If you are someone who is trying to break the cycle of drug or alcohol use, I will advocate for rehabilitation over strict punishment.

For others, you may not feel like you need drug or alcohol rehabilitation; it was a mistake, which we all make. As your lawyer, I recognize the complicated connection between alcohol, drugs and crime. I carefully analyze your unique circumstances as I advocate for solutions that are appropriate for you.

Driving While Impaired (aka DWI)

The law surrounding DWIs in Minnesota is surprisingly complex. Consequences involve both a civil component and a criminal component, which are separate from one another. The civil (or administrative) consequences are intended to be immediate, which can include getting your license revoked, plate impoundment and vehicle forfeiture. The consequences of a criminal conviction may include incarceration, probation, fines, chemical dependency treatment, and monitoring.

Criminal penalties for DWIs range in severity from 1st degree (most severe) to 4th degree (least severe) based upon the number of aggravating factors present at the time the offense occurred.  A person who had been driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or more (.04 for commercial drivers) may be charged with a DWI.  For drivers under the age of 21, Minnesota has a Zero Tolerance law, meaning that such drivers are not permitted to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system.  Additionally, a person may be charged with a DWI if he or she has been determined to be driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

What are aggravating factors?

  • A qualified prior impaired driving incident within ten years of the date of the new offense, which includes (1) prior impaired driving convictions, and (2) prior impaired driving-related losses of license (implied consent revocations) or operating privileges
  • An alcohol concentration of .20 or more as measured at the time, or within two hours of driving, operating or being in physical control of a motor vehicle
  • The presence of a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle, if the child is more than 36 months younger than the offender

What are the criminal penalties for a DWI?

  • 1st Degree – Three aggravating factors present, $14,000 fine and/or seven years imprisonment
  • 2nd Degree – Two aggravating factors present, $3,000 fine and/or 1 year jail
  • 3rd Degree – One aggravating factor present, $3,000 fine and/or 1 year jail
  • 4th Degree – Zero aggravating factors present, $1,000 fine and/or 90 days jail

What are the civil penalties for a DWI?

Unlike criminal penalties, civil penalties are enforced by Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, not the criminal court system.  Minnesota law permits the Department to automatically take certain administrative actions against drivers convicted of a DWI. This includes suspending or revoking a person’s driver’s license, and vehicle forfeiture and license plate impoundment.  The severity of civil penalties vary, depending on the number of prior impaired driving offenses, and can range anywhere from 90 days license revocation for first time offenders to license cancellation for repeated offenses.  Under certain circumstances, a person may be eligible to request a limited license, which permits a person to drive to work or school, or a restricted license, which permits a person to drive if he/she has installed an Ignition Interlock Device in the car.

To read the DWI statutes, visit Minnesota Statute 169.

Possession or Sale of Controlled Substances (aka Drug Crimes)

Minnesota classifies not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine as controlled substances, but also the compounds used to manufacture them. Possessing controlled substances for personal use carries different penalties than for the sale or manufacture of them. However, both possession and sale/manufacture convictions can incur heavy fines and long periods of incarceration.

Penalties for drug crimes range in severity from 1st degree (most severe) to 5th degree (least severe) based on (1) the amount of drugs involved, and (2) whether one is selling or possessing drugs (or manufacturing methamphetamines).  NOTE: Recent changes to the law, taking effect August 1, 2016, will reduce the recommended prison sentence for first-degree possession and sale of drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine from seven years to down to about five years – the first time drug sentencing laws have been changed in about 30 years. However, these changes assign harsher penalties for drug dealers and those who carry drugs across state lines or carry a firearm – with the goal of differentiating between dealers and people with substance use disorders. We will update the below penalties when they take effect.

What are the penalties for drug crimes?

  • 1st Degree — may be sentenced to imprisonment up to 30 years or payment of a fine up to $1,000,000, or both; if prior drug felony, four year minimum imprisonment sentence and also may be fined up to $1,000,000
  • 2nd Degree — may be sentenced to imprisonment up to 25 years or payment of a fine up to $500,000, or both; if prior drug conviction, three minimum imprisonment sentence and also may be fined up to $500,000
  • 3rd Degree — may be sentenced to imprisonment up to 20 years or payment of a fine up to $250,000, or both; if prior drug conviction, two year minimum imprisonment sentence and also may be fined up to $250,000
  • 4th Degree — may be sentenced to imprisonment up to 15 years or payment of a fine up to $100,000, or both; if prior drug conviction, one year minimum imprisonment sentence and also may be fined up to $100,000
  • 5th Degree — may be sentenced to imprisonment up to five years or payment of a fine up to $10,000, or both; if prior drug conviction, six months minimum imprisonment sentence and also may be fined up to $20,000

To read the controlled substance statutes, visit Minnesota Statute 152.

Crimes Committed while Impaired

This encompasses many different criminal charges. The influence of drugs or alcohol can contribute to criminal behavior in a multitude of ways.  For example, the effects of drugs and alcohol may cause an individual to engage in domestic violence, stealing, assault, other crimes against people, and even murder.  In general, being intoxicated can, in some situations, negate an element of a crime. It typically depends on whether the intoxication was voluntary or involuntary and what level of intent is required by the criminal charge.  However, the vast majority of people charged with such crimes, whether impaired at the commission of the crime or not, are in need of some form of diversion program, rather than punishment that would force more people into Minnesota’s already overcrowded prison system.


Arson is the intentional damage or destruction of property, which is caused by means of fire or explosives under Minnesota law.  Criminal penalties range in severity from 1st degree (most severe) to 5th degree (least severe), and carry potential imprisonment sentences ranging from 20 years (and $20,000 in fines) to under 90 days (and a $1000 in fines).


Minnesota law defines assault as an intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death; or inflict or attempt to inflict bodily harm upon another.  Criminal penalties for assault range in severity from 1st to 5th degree, which carry potential imprisonment sentences ranging from up to 20 years (and $30,000 in fines) to under one year (and up to $3,000 in fines).

Criminal Vehicular Operation

Under Minnesota law, Criminal Vehicular Operation is defined as causing great bodily harm to another when operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, in a negligent manner under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or leaving the scene of an accident.  Penalties range from up to five years in prison to under one year in jail, in addition to fines up to $10,000.

Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct comes in many forms under Minnesota law, including but not limited to fighting, yelling obscenities, and upsetting meetings in a way that “will tend to, alarm, anger or disturb others or provoke an assault or breach of the peace”.  As a misdemeanor, the criminal penalty for disorderly conduct is a sentence of up to 90 days in jail and $1000 in fines (or both).  


The severity of a homicide charge depends on the accused’s alleged level of intent (or lack thereof) to cause the death of another.  Minnesota law classifies homicide under three primary categories: (1) murder, ranging in severity from 1st degree (most severe) to 3rd degree (least severe); (2) manslaughter; and (3) criminal vehicular homicide. Minnesota’s Homicide laws carry potential imprisonment sentences ranging from life to under 10 years, in addition to significant fines.

Juvenile Crimes

Under Minnesota law, a juvenile is defined as a child under the age of 18.  Crimes come in many forms, ranging from being out past curfew, to a charge of murder. Separate court procedures from the adult criminal process have been created to deal with children whom are alleged to have broken the law.


Under Minnesota law, prostitution is defined from the perspective of both the prostitute and the patron. Prostitution charges may be brought for persons alleged to have exchanged “sexual penetration” or “sexual contact” for money. Criminal penalties can range from misdemeanor to felony-level offenses, and carry imprisonment sentences of up to 20 years and/or up to $40,000 in fines.


Theft is an umbrella term that applies to the intentional possession of property of another without their consent and with intent to “deprive the owner permanently of possession of the property”.  Depending on the value of stolen property, criminal penalties range from an imprisonment sentence of up to 20 years and/or a fine up to $100,000.


Under Minnesota law, weapons charges may result from illegal possession, transfer, or use of weapons, which may endanger the safety of others.  Criminal penalties range in severity from misdemeanors to felonies, carrying varying imprisonment sentences and fines.

Probation Violations

Probation violations can occur in many ways under Minnesota law, including failing a drug test, not completing court-ordered treatment, not holding a job or complying with house arrest, being charged with another crime, or failing to stay in regular contact with the probation officer.

Once a probation violation occurs, the defendant receives a revocation hearing, where he/she may admit or deny that the violation occurred.  If the defendant denies the allegations, he/she may request a “Morrissey Hearing”, which allows him/her to contest the factual basis of the violation.  The defendant is allowed an attorney at these hearings (and one can be appointed if you so choose).  The State’s burden on probation violation cases is to prove a violation by “clear and convincing evidence” (less than “beyond on a reasonable doubt”).

If the defendant admits to the violation or the State proves the defendant violated his/her probation, consequences may include charging the defendant with a new crime, modifying the conditions of the probation or extending the length of probation, or revoking the probation and executing the stayed jail sentence with which the defendant was originally charged.

Expungement and Record Sealing

Sealing an arrest record or criminal conviction record has many advantages:  It increases employment and housing opportunities and the ability to obtain professional licenses, loans and grants.  Most importantly, it gives you the peace of mind that your arrest or criminal conviction will not define your future.  An expungement is defined as sealing (or erasing) the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction. Most offenses, from misdemeanors to felonies, may be expunged from a criminal record; however certain violent and sex crime convictions cannot be expunged under Minnesota law.  An expungement does not destroy the record in the literal sense.  The conviction or arrest will ordinarily still be accessible to law enforcement and the criminal courts (among other government agencies) as part of a person’s criminal record.  But, an employer or a landlord, for example, will not be able to see the arrest or conviction upon a criminal background check, nor does the arrest or conviction have to be disclosed on a job or apartment application.

Getting a record expunged can be a complicated and confusing process.  It takes a lot of time, up to six months, and requires thorough and careful analysis of applying the law to the unique circumstances of a particular conviction/arrest to ensure a positive outcome. The severity and circumstances of the crime — whether or not you were convicted, pled guilty or not guilty, the case was dismissed, your complete criminal record, and the amount of time that has passed since the conviction/arrest, among several other factors — all determine the eligibility of expunging a record, and the legal strategies to seal the record.  This is why hiring a lawyer to help you seal your criminal record is strongly encouraged.