Will Minnesota Catch Up to New York’s Harsher DWI Penalties?
This past September, a Minnesota man named Danny Bettcher, age 64, was arrested and charged with drunk driving. This might not be a noteworthy story except for the fact that this was the 28th time Bettcher had been picked up for the same offense. This man has an extremely disturbing DWI history. According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Bettcher has spent more than 11 years in prison for a combination of DWI convictions and violations of release. Since his arrest has become public, a couple of state lawmakers are feeling a new urgency to change Minnesota’s DWI laws.
The Incident Itself
The criminal complaint states that an off-duty sheriff’s deputy saw Bettcher, who appeared to be extremely inebriated, at the VFW hall in New York Mills. The deputy, aware of Bettcher’s history of DWI and fearing that the suspect would once again hit the road intoxicated, notified other law enforcement officials. Shortly thereafter, an officer saw Bettcher weaving along on Highway 10 after running a stop sign. When he was pulled over, Bettcher refused to take any field sobriety tests, eventually declaring: “I am way over. Take me to jail.”
Why This Incident Is Changing Minds
In view of the fact that Bettcher was driving with a valid license, people are asking themselves how it is possible that a person already convicted of DWI 27 times is still permitted to drive in the state of Minnesota. Bettcher was driving with a valid license. If found guilty, this will make 28 DWI convictions. Rep. Dario Anselmo (R-Edina) declares the incident “shocking on many levels. For me and our family… certainly having kids and having a young driver, you think about those things even more. But it just seems a little outrageous.”
How Rep. Anselmo Wants to Change the Law for Repeat DWI Offenders
At present, Minnesota does not permanently keep people from driving as long as they complete the necessary requirements to reinstate their license. Rep. Anselmo was sufficiently shocked by Bettcher’s record that he now favors cracking down on extreme repeat DWI offenders. Under current Minnesota law, even offenders with four or more “qualified prior driving incidents” can have their licenses reinstated after 6 years. Clearly, this enables individuals with intractable alcohol problems, like Mr. Bettcher, to keep endangering other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
As most of us are aware, injuries and fatalities that result from drunk driving are high throughout the country. In Minnesota alone, according the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 95 people died in 2016 as a result of DWI collisions. Rep. Anselmo is now ” looking to introduce a bill next session and looking to get a hearing on it and have some discussion about trying to see if we can add a higher consequence so that after five DWIs, you would actually lose your license and have it be [sic] revoked forever.”
Noting that other states, like Oregon and New York, already have laws on the books that ban some serial drunk drivers from driving for life, Rep. Anselmo commented that, “We’re behind on this and it’s about time we get caught up. For me, the bottom line is driving is a privilege that shouldn’t override everyone else’s rights to safety and…life.”
State representative Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) also plans to address the state’s DWI laws during the next legislative session in order to make sure a case like Bettcher’s doesn’t happen again. The 2018 legislative session is set to begin February 20, 2018.
Contrasting DWI Laws in Minnesota and New York
As Rep. Anselmo noted, states like New York have legislated penalties for repeated DWI offenses that far outweigh those of Minnesota, especially as the offender amasses more arrests. According to data reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is a stark difference between the percentage of people in each of these two states who report drinking and driving in during the past 30 days: 1.4 percent in New York and 2.4 percent in Minnesota. This hardly seems to be a coincidence.
Whichever state you live in, DWI is already a serious offense. If you stand accused of impaired DWI it is essential that you have a strong criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.