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DWI bill leaves you reeling

Binary Data Mach DWI1 / 3
Sticker shock awaits the motorist who sobers up after being arrested for driving while intoxicated in Becker County. Photo Illustration by Sara Leitheiser/DL NEWSPAPERS2 / 3
DL Newspapers reporter Brian Wierima meets with Detroit Lakes attorney Simon George for this story about the cost of getting a DWI. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham3 / 3

This is Part 3 of a three part series.  If you missed the first two articles you can catch up by clicking the below links:

Part Two - A tough blow: Booked for DWI

It takes approximately two hours or less to be pulled over and booked for a DWI.

But if you’re charged and convicted of a DWI, the repercussions will be felt much, much longer.

Get a DWI, and your wallet will grow a gaping hole, with the money draining right into a system that churns out huge bill after huge bill from the time you walk out of the courthouse.

The average total cost for a first DWI in Minnesota is $9,069 to $11,469, according to the website

You can expect to pass on down the chain of the judicial system like a ragdoll: there are sentencing guidelines, but how you’re sentenced depends on a host of variables.

Booking at the county jail can be humiliating, but the DWI process is still not done grinding you up.

The Department of Public Safety takes its turn by inflicting certain punishments on your driving privileges — the majority through fees, but also through the inconvenience of trying to reinstate your license.

Then it’s time to go through the alcohol assessment process, which determines if a drinking problem indeed exists. The court will enforce the recommendation of the assessment, which needs to be met by certain deadlines.

But even when you are able to earn your driver’s license back, the trust level you have destroyed puts you on unstable ground.

One of the biggest dips into your financial earnings comes in the form of car insurance, which more than likely doubles in cost after your first offense. 

In my journey through the DWI process, my mock booking is done.

But the process keeps pounding away with no rest stop in sight for the next year. There will be always a reminder for that decision of taking my vehicle on the road when I should not have.

I have finally accepted the reality that I am now a DWI offender.

But I will not be ready for the blow after blow that follows my stupidity.

Time passes slowly inside my cell. The only thoughts are of regret and what I could have done differently just a few hours before.

It dawns on me that the family vacations and activities we have planned over the next few months will be a casualty of tonight.

The sharp edge of guilt again pierces my stomach — my family will have to make sacrifices because of me.

My knowledge of DWI punishment is little, so I think of the worst case scenarios.

Claustrophobia hits me like a hot sledgehammer, after thinking I may have to stay in a cell like this for another second.

The appreciation of one’s freedom enhances twofold after spending just a small time here.

Time hasn’t passed, but I’ve looked in the future and it’s not going to be a sunny one.

Very little sleep is had, as restlessness drives any peace and quiet away … despite no noise being heard.

Finally, after tearing myself apart, the cell door opens and I am asked to blow into the Data-Master once again to measure if I am 100 percent sober for my court hearing Thursday morning.

After a blood alcohol content reading of .21 percent, it takes approximately 13-14 hours to get down to 0.00.

Bleary-eyed and ragged, I blow a 0.00.

“Finally, something goes in my favor,” I think.

Time for my first-ever court hearing. I go in handcuffs and ankle shackles, still garbed in faded orange pajamas.

This is one of the most degrading walks I have ever taken. I have to go into public like this and I fear people are going to recognize me waddling down the hallway towards the courthouse.

The policy of cuffing and shackling inmates for their court hearing is for safety of the guards and officers, said Becker County’s Sheriff Sgt. Shane Richard.

“We don’t intentionally make it demeaning, but we do it for safety,” Richard said. “We want people to come out of this as good as they can and learn from their mistakes.

“We don’t sit here and downgrade people coming into court. There are consequences to your actions and if it makes you not want do it again, that’s a good thing.”

The regret of taking those final three shots of Jag again comes back to haunt me. Because I blew over a .20, I am remanded to court, where I have the potential of being held on $12,000 bond, in which I would have to call a bondsman to post the bond. That would lead to paying an estimated $1,200 to $1,250 out of my own pocket to hire a bail bondsman. 

I am counting my blessings while I wait in the courtroom that I am not to be held on conditional bond.

“Usually, the judge will release you on an unconditional bond on your first offense,” said Detroit Lakes Attorney Simon George, of Simon & Simon Quality Legal Services. “Then the judge will release you on your own recognizance, with stipulations you don’t drink during the time you are released and you appear for your next court date.”

Another stipulation is you are required to meet with your attorney.

The court hearing is quite fast, as I am granted an unconditional bond and released on my own recognizance.

The charge I bear is a third-degree DWI, which is a gross misdemeanor.

I am directed back to the jail, where I change back into my clothes and am given back my possessions.

I am released with a bevy of papers.

I get the glare from hell from my wife, Chrisy, as she waits for me in her car. I have nothing to say, but let’s go home and see what comes next.

What comes next, is a demoralizing path, with no peaks, but all valleys. It just keeps going lower and lower.

As the days pass, I already have gone in and talked with my boss and publisher of the Detroit Lakes Newspapers Dennis Winskowski.

Again, it’s a repeat of humiliation, as I have to delve back into my actions and the pending consequences.

Of course, I fear for my job now —Forum Communications has to insure me, since I use my car for work purposes.      That brings up the next crisis in my unraveling life.

“There is probably a 95 percent chance you would lose your job,” said Forum Communication Company’s Human Resource Director Kate Freimanis.

That’s because I depend on driving to different destinations for my job. The insurance the FCC has that covers me during work time considers a DWI a “major violation” and more than likely would drop me.

That means no job, unless the FCC would have a position for me which doesn’t require driving.

The hornets’ nest officially has landed in my lap now.

The mailbox also has become a bearer of misery.

Every morning the walk out to the mailbox feels like the Green Mile. 

When I was arrested, I was given a notice of revocation which informed me that after seven days, my license was no longer valid.

After that, my car insurance company sent out a notification that it had dropped me, as well.  

I meet with my attorney, Simon George. He isn’t full of good news, either, but he is honest and will help guide me through this mess.

Again, the Jag shots and the .21 reading slap me in the face.

“Most first time DWI offenders who blow under .20 decide they don’t need attorneys,” George said. “I usually go over the facts with them and tell them the costs involved and the odds and it usually comes down to dollars and cents. But those who need an attorney are those who blow .20 or over, or multiple-time offenders.”

Cost of a lawyer: $3,000 minimum.

George starts off and asks me a ton of questions regarding the arrest. I recall every detail through the arrest and booking.

I talk about the sobriety field tests and George explains to me my rights.

He explains the reason why offenders will get two charges of DWI. One count is for the failed breath test.

The other is because the offender was driving a motor vehicle and was under the influence of alcohol — it doesn’t say anything about a failed breath test.

“You can be convicted on both charges, but only given one sentence, because they arise out of the same behavioral incident,” George said. “And they can’t use both of them against you in the future.”

I see a ray of hope and tell George I was not read my Miranda rights.

He quickly snuffs that ray out.

“For DWI cases, they don’t have to read you your Miranda until they have arrested you. They can stop you, ask questions and ask field sobriety tests, they don’t have to Miranda you. If they arrest you, they can’t ask you any other questions, except for asking you to take the tests.”

George explains my next court appearance will be an omnibus hearing. In Latin, Omnibus means “everything” and it’s a hearing to see if the lawyer can poke holes in the state’s case.

“Technically, it means the judge will look at the issues the lawyer has raised and decide if any of your constitutional rights were violated,” George added.

The hearing will take place about two to three months after the arrest so the attorney can collect the information, tests, videos from the officer’s dashboard camera and other potential evidence which could help.

“It’s not uncommon to take up to six months from arrest to the final court appearance,” George added.

The bad news easily outweighs any positive vibes, with the omnibus hearing producing no solid defenses.

It’s time to go into “damage control.”

My fate is nearly sealed as I see the door closing tightly.

“We really don’t have any defenses, so we need to cut a deal,” George tells me.

It’s the route the heavy majority takes when going through the court system – the plea bargain.

“DWI cases don’t typically go to trial,” said District Judge Joe Evans. “Over the years, the legislature has made some modifications to DWI laws. The momentum has always been, in my experience, penalties increased, collateral damages increased and the technology has been enhanced.

“The ability for cops to collect evidence has been enhanced, as well. The Legislature has been tough on DWIs and has made it tough to defend those cases.”

As the costs keep coming in through the mailbox, George has plea bargained with the Becker County prosecutor for my exchange of a guilty plea.

But before I go to court for my sentencing, I have an alcohol assessment done. The recommendation by the counselor is to partake in group therapy here in Detroit Lakes at Drake Counseling Services.

Cost of evaluation: $100; Therapy counseling cost: $5,000 (if my health insurance doesn’t help cover any of it).

I stand in front of Judge Evans, as he reads my sentence, which will be the typical sentence rendered to a person with my record, who is charged with a gross misdemeanor DWI and a first-time offender.

“The judge will accept the plea bargain or reject it,” Evans said.

My sentence is also based on whether I was cooperative with the officers and deputies, and the judge acknowledges that I was.

I hear the words that seal my fate. I am sentenced to one year in jail with 360 days stayed for six years, on condition I have no similar charges, am law-abiding and will have to follow the chemical assessment and do those recommendations by a set deadline. 

FINE: $1,000 … $75 statutory surcharge … library fee $10 … Chemical assessment $25. Total from court sentencing: $1,110.

Since I have two days already registered in jail, I have to stay three days, or in some cases, I can qualify for community service.

Since I had a BAC of .21, I will now have to have an Intoxalock ignition interlock system installed in my car or have my driving privileges revoked for an entire year.

In fact, anyone with a BAC of .16 or higher will be required to have the Intoxalock in their vehicle for 12 months.

I, or should I say my wife, drives me to Nereson in Detroit Lakes to have the Intoxalock installed.

Installation: $100; Recalibration every 60 days for a year: $102; Monthly rental for 12 months: $1,019.40.

I watch a video on how the Intoxalock works and fork over the $100.

The Intoxalock works with the offender having to blow into it to allow the car to start. There is a small camera which takes a picture of the person blowing into the device.

If there is any reading of alcohol used, the entire vehicle will be shut down and the only way to get it started is to tow it in and fix it, which of course, has a cost to it.

“Then you need to bring it in and get the device recalibrated every 60 days, which costs $17 each time,” said Wade Schwartz, who deals with the Intoxalock installation at Nereson. “We have about 50 to 60 people on average who have an Intoxalock on a regular cycle each month.”

I also am required to have “Whiskey Plates” installed on my vehicle, which feels like a Scarlett Letter in public.

The black-and-white license plate is designed to give officers on the road a heads up that the driver has gotten a DWI.

The law, though, states an officer can’t pull over a vehicle with Whiskey Plates without a reason, but they will find one.

Cost of Whiskey Plates: $50 to put them on and $50 to take them off. Total: $100.

The next trip is to my insurance agent to re-apply for car insurance, which was dropped.

He tells me he needs to send off an SR-22 Form, because the state requires an individual to carry insurance to get a license.

With the Intoxalock installed and the 15-day period of losing my license gone by, I reapply for my license.

Reinstatement of license cost: $680; Class D license fee: $26.25. Total: $706.25.

With that in hand, my insurance quote is purely sticker shock, since I need to pay for a high-risk policy for the next three years.

My regular rate pre-DWI was $521.20 for full coverage every six months. My post-DWI rates skyrocket to $960.90 for full coverage every six months (every insurance agency is different, mind you).

The difference over three years is an extra $2,638.20.

With my new license in hand, along with my new, snazzy Intoxalock connected to my car, the storm is passing and I am left to start picking up the pieces.

I don’t look at a beer or a drink the same ever again.

With my stayed jail sentence and unsupervised probation for the next six years, making the same mistake twice will be detrimental to my pursuit of building back a normal life.

It potentially has already ended my career as sports editor at Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the total bill which will accumulate the next three years comes to $14,138.15.

That’s easily a nice chunk out of a mortgage, a price for a nice truck or a very nice addition to my son’s future college tuition savings.

The guilt of hurting my family’s financial future is enough to bear, but the stigma of having a DWI on what was a clean record is also a weight I must lift every single day.

There will be plenty of jobs that will disappear after having that mark on my record, as well.

But the point of the DWI process is simple: Make a person not want to do it again.

Because next time, it could be much worse.

It is a point well taken by me with the letters D-W-I forever ingrained in my memory, pocket book and life.

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Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.