Minnesota group seeks harsher punishments for repeat DWI offenders

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In most states, once you’re caught drinking and driving three times, you can consider yourself a felon.

Not in Minnesota.

Here, you have to get four DWIs on your record to meet the felony threshold.

The leniency is why Jon Cummings, the executive director of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, says it’s time to get tougher, especially on repeat offenders.

“They’re out there threatening you and your family and me and my family day in and day out,” Cummings said.

This is why he wasn’t surprised to learn 47-year-old Lawrence LaPole of Rosemount, Minn., was booked in Wisconsin’s Dunn County Tuesday night on suspicion of his 10th overall DWI arrest. This is LaPole’s fifth OWI offense in the Badger State.

“He’s splitting them up between states, jurisdictions,” Cummings nodded.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen it before,” said Bill Lemons, of the Minnesota DWI Task Force.

“Of first time offenders, about 40 percent will be arrested for a second DWI,” Lemons confirmed.

From there, the chances  that driver will reoffend goes up significantly, according to Lemons, who is also a member of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and the State’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor.

“About 80 percent of second-time offenders [reoffend]. Someone with a 10th DWI is going to drive drunk again,” Lemons insisted.

And first-time DWI offenders usually don’t go to jail. It’s only if a driver gets caught drinking and driving again over the course of ten years that it’s even considered a gross misdemeanor. And at that time, most people usually only see 30 days in jail.

Third-time offenders’ mandatory minimum is 90 days in jail.

“If you don’t learn on the first one, what do you give them a break on the second one for?” Cummings wondered.

Even if you circumvent the ignition interlock to get behind the wheel while intoxicated - as LaPole is accused of doing - the crime is only a misdemeanor on this side of the St. Croix River.

While LaPole is likely to face prison time in Wisconsin, the fear is that unless his habits and behavior drastically change, he and other repeat offenders will drive drunk again.

“It’s bigger than terrorism in this country,” Cummings said of intoxicated drivers on our roadways. This 4th of July holiday weekend, 503 DWI arrests were made statewide. That’s up from 407 over the same time last year.

“There was a lot of extra enforcement, which may speak to the higher number, but there’s still [503] people making the bad decision to drink and drive,” said Lt. Tiffani Nielson with the Minnesota State Patrol.

Nielson asks if you come across a drunk driver to keep the vehicle in your sight for as long as safely possible and to call 911 with the driver’s direction and the nearest intersection or cross street. Many DWI arrests, Nielson says, are as a result of phoned complaints from concerned drivers.

Additional information on Minnesota DWI consequences can be found here.