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Man jailed for 28th DWI illustrates MN drunk driving issues

A man leaving his VFW post after enjoying a few drinks had the misfortune of being spotted by another VFW attendee who happened to be an off-duty sheriff’s deputy.

The arrest of Danny Lee Bettcher in September 2017 is evidence that some people do not stop drinking and driving after the first offense, indicating the ongoing need to tackle drunk driving in Minnesota.

What to expect

A first DUI offense in the state of Minnesota is a misdemeanor, and a person can expect to receive a fine of up to $1,000 plus possible jail time of up to 90 days. Second and third offenses are gross misdemeanors, while a fourth offense if committed within 10 years is a felony. At 28 DUI offenses, Mr. Bettcher was well into the felony classification. The Otter Tail County judge sentenced him to prison, where he is now serving four-and-a-half years.

DUI on the rise

Over the 2017 holiday season, Minnesota law enforcement officials made a concerted effort to reduce drunk driving in the state. Statistics compiled by the Department of Public Safety showed that officers arrested 2,600 drivers for DWI during the holiday campaign, a number that was higher by 200 arrests than in a similar time period a year earlier.

Staying within bounds

In the state of Minnesota, the legal drinking age is 21, and the legal limit for operating a vehicle based on a driver's blood alcohol content level is 0.08 percent. The BAC limit is zero for any underage driver: It is illegal for anyone who is under the age of 21 to drive with any alcohol in his or her system.

A word about physical control

Mr. Bettcher's arrest occurred because he drove through a stop sign and law enforcement saw his car weaving on the highway. However, Minnesota law extends to those who have “physical control” of a vehicle and not just those who are actively driving. Having the keys in a parked vehicle while intoxicated could lead to a DWI if someone gives an officer probable cause to believe that he or she will drive away.

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