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DWI Defense Attorneys Explain Minnesota’s Physical Inability Defense

If you’ve been arrested for driving while impaired (DWI) in Minnesota, you should familiarize yourself with the state’s physical inability defense.

Minnesota DWI offenders face both criminal penalties as well as administrative penalties. Like many other states, the severity of these penalties varies depending on your blood alcohol level (BAC), whether or not this is your first offense, and the circumstances surrounding the arrest (e.g. the presence of children in the car; if you injured someone; etc.).

For a BAC level of 0.16% or greater, Minnesota DWI offenders face up to 1 year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine. Some people assume that refusing the BAC test is a better option, but this isn’t necessarily true. Assuming it’s a first offense, it also carries up to 1 year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine. Using Minnesota’s physical inability defense, however, may help you avoid a DWI conviction and its associated penalties.

What is Minnesota’s Physical Inability Defense?

When an officer suspects you of driving while impaired, he or she will ask you to complete a BAC test. For a “field sobriety” test — performed in the field as opposed to the police station or elsewhere — a breathalyzer is the preferred option. The officer asks you to blow into a small device, which measures the alcohol content in your breath. If you fail to expel enough air into the breathalyzer, the officer may simply cite you for refusing to take the test, in which case the physical inability defense may apply during the right circumstance.

A breathalyzer is only accurate at detecting alcohol levels when the individual blows enough air into it. In Minnesota, a valid breathalyzer test requires two samples of at least 1.5 liters of air at a flow rate of approximately 3.0 liters per minute. So, you essentially need to blow a 2-liter bottle 3/4 full twice. If you blow over the legal limit of 0.08% on either of these tests, the officer will likely arrest you. But if you don’t produce the required 1.5 liters of air on either of these tests, the officer may cite you for refusal.

How the Physical Inability Defense Works

Just because you blow less than 1.5 liters of air during the breathalyzer test doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be convicted of DWI. Not everyone has the ability to blow 1.5 liters, which is where the physical inability defense comes into play. There are certain medical conditions that restrict or otherwise limit a person’s respiratory function. Minnesota’s physical inability defense is intended to protect individuals such as this from unjust prosecution.

Affecting roughly 2.4% of the world’s population, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that may be used to fight a DWI. COPD is characterized by chronic poor airflow. If a person suffers from COPD, he or she may struggle to blow the full 1.5 liters during a breathalyzer test, regardless of how many times the person tries.

Other conditions to which the physical inability defense may apply include the following:

  • Lung cancer
  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Any other disease that restricts breathing function

Minnesota’s physical inability defense doesn’t stop all DWI convictions. Rather, it’s a legal defense used in cases where the suspect cannot produce sufficient airflow into the breathalyzer due to an existing medical condition.

Of course, a successful physical inability defense in a DWI case relies heavily on evidence. Assuming you’ve been diagnosed with one of the conditions mentioned above, you can provide medical records documenting your history with the condition. The testimony of a specialized physician or medical expert may also help your case.

To learn more about Minnesota’s physical inability defense and whether it applies you to your case, contact us today by calling our St. Paul office at 651-451-6411.


Disclaimer: The information contained on this page does not constitute an attorney client relationship. Be sure to contact our law office to discuss your case with an attorney.