Banner-Evaluation of Minnesota's High-BAC Law

3. Evaluation of Minnesota's High-BAC Law

Interviews with Experts

Semi-structured interviews were conducted in summer 2001 with about 20 DWI experts in Minnesota’s DWI laws and practices, including representatives from the enforcement, judicial, prosecutorial, public defender, and research communities; driver license sanctioning officials in the Department of Public Service; legislative staff; and officials in the Traffic Safety Office.

The experts were asked to express their views on the following topics:

The following discussion summarizes the main points emerging from the interviews.

Complexity of DWI Laws.

There was a general consensus that when implemented in January 1998, the high-BAC statute added a considerable level of complexity to the existing body of DWI laws, which were viewed as already highly complex. Because of this added complexity, some experts believed that the high-BAC statute may have had the unintended effect of increasing the number of “loopholes” in the system.

The added complexity was a particular concern for law enforcement officers, who typically initiate the process to impose administrative driver license and vehicle sanctions. In cases where the officer fails to initiate the administrative sanctions, imposition of the license revocation or vehicle sanctions must await conviction. Lack of clarity about the applicability of administrative sanctions was reportedly especially problematic for officers assigned to regular traffic patrols rather than dedicated DWI patrols.

All the experts indicated that the complexity of the laws had been significantly reduced by the recodification in 2001. Some suggested that the complexity introduced by the high-BAC statute may have contributed to the perceived need for recodification.

Enforcement of High-BAC Statute.

Despite the apparent confusion about the high-BAC statute among some police officers, all the experts believed that most high-BAC offenders were being charged appropriately.

Support for the High-BAC Law.

The level of support for the high-BAC law was mixed. Most experts believed that a BAC of .20 or higher is a strong indicator of alcohol dependency and repeated alcohol-impaired driving, and most believed that a high-BAC threshold of .20 was appropriate. It was suggested that the enactment of the high-BAC law had served to educate some judges about the value of the BAC in predicting future behavior and as an indicator of alcohol dependency. Several persons noted that the law was helpful in providing a “benchmark” for the treatment of offenders with higher BACs. However, as discussed below, some interviewees questioned the efficacy of the high-BAC law as a general or specific deterrent measure. Several judges and other experts reported that the enactment of the high-BAC law created “quite a stir” among many judges, who believed the penalties, especially the jail sanction for a first-time offense, were onerous and unreasonable..