Can a bicyclist be charged with DWI in Minnesota?

A recent informal survey taken at the University of Minnesota indicates that many students at the U may believe that drinking and riding a bicycle could lead to driving while impaired charges in Minnesota. Generally, the Minnesota DWI statutes do not apply to a bicycle, if the bike is powered solely by a human being.

In other words, a bicycle is not considered a motor vehicle for the purposes of Minnesota DWI laws, provided the bike has no type of motor to propel the bike. But if someone were to slap some kind of motor on a typical bike, or purchase what many call a “moped,” the definition of a motor vehicle may become a criminal defense argument in court.

State laws differ on whether or not law enforcement or prosecutors can charge a bike rider with DWI. For instance, in California riding a bike under the influence is considered an infraction, which is fairly comparable to a petty misdemeanor in Minnesota. Minnesota has not made biking under the influence a crime, nor a petty offense. A petty misdemeanor in Minnesota generally is punishable only through a fine, with no exposure to potential jail time.

Despite the idea that a non-motorized bicycle is not covered under Minnesota’s DWI laws, bicyclists still must obey the general traffic laws to avoid being cited for some type of offense. Obviously, if the authorities wish to find something to pursue after stopping a bicyclist who law enforcement believes is under the influence, other laws may come into play.

The recent informal survey, discussed in the Minnesota Daily, included roughly 60 students at the U of M. Minnesota law prohibits underage drinking and underage possession of alcohol. Any students who are under the age of 21 could possibly face charges for an alleged alcohol offense, even while riding a bicycle.

The interplay of traffic laws, DWI and implied consent laws, and alcohol offense laws is complex. Anyone facing criminal charges in Minnesota can learn how the alleged facts apply to the law and what defenses may be available in an individual case through consulting with an experienced Minneapolis/St. Paul criminal defense lawyer.

Source: Minnesota Daily, “Biking drunk is legal – a surprise to many students,” Bryna Godar, June 20, 2012

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