Minnesota Judge Charged with Christmas Eve Drunk Driving

Judge Michael Vann Sovis

Michael Vann Sovis (Courtesy of the Ramsey County sheriff's office via TwinCities.com)

Be careful on the roads tonight — the holidays are notorious occasions for partygoers who have had a few too many, ignore DUI/DWI laws and get behind the wheel. On Christmas Eve, a judge in Minnesota who allegedly drunkenly crashed his car learned the hard way that the law applies even to those who are usually charged with enforcing it.

Michael Vann Sovis, a district judge in Dakota County, was arrested Dec. 24 on two counts of drunk driving after he reportedly hit several parked cars in Saint Paul with his Lexus SUV.

According to news reports, his blood alcohol content was .28 and he told police at the time of his arrest he’d had six drinks before driving. The police report said he “was very unsteady on his feet and needed support from another officer in order to not fall and hit the ground. Additional field sobriety tests were not conducted based on concerns for defendant’s physical safety.”


Jail Time and Fines

Sovis is a 24-year veteran of the district court who once issued a ruling that drivers who lost their license for failing a sobriety test could not be prosecuted in court, a decision that was quickly overturned. Now, he finds himself subject to the very laws he once ruled on.

The charges are his first offense, so the penalties will be less severe than a repeat offender would face. Each subsequent conviction within a ten-year period carries larger penalties, according to Minnesota criminal defense attorney Douglas T. Kans of the Kans Law Firm:

  • First DWI offense within 10 years – A jail term of up to 90 days, a maximum fine of $1,000, mandatory counseling classes, possible suspension of driver’s license for up to 90 days.
  • Second DWI offense within 10 years – A mandatory jail term of 30 days or a possible maximum jail time of up to one year, maximum fine of $3,000 and a possible driver’s license suspension for 180 days.
  • Third DWI offense within 10 years – A mandatory jail term of 90 days or up to 1 year, maximum fine of $3,000, and a possible driver’s license suspension for one year or cancellation of driving privileges for the reason of “inimical to public safety”.
  • Fourth DWI offense within 10 years – Considered as a felony DWI charge, the penalties of a fourth DWI offense include a mandatory jail term of 180 days or up to 7 years, a maximum of $14,000 in fines and cancellation of all driving privileges.


Legal Limits

Attorney Douglas T. Kans

Douglas T. Kans

The legal limit for driving is .08 in Minnesota, as it is in every state, so Sovis was about three-and-a-half times more drunk than he was legally allowed to be. Blood alcohol content (BAC) readings over .2 can bring harsher penalties, so the judge could be in some extra hot water.

The amount of alcohol needed to raise BAC to such an extent varies by body weight, sex and other factors, but men who weigh over 150 pounds typically would need to down approximately 10 or more drinks before reaching a heady .28. People are generally considered severely impaired at anything over .25, can pass out or reach a coma at .3 or .35 and are at high risk of death if BAC rises to .4.

As few as two drinks in an hour can be enough to push smaller people over the legal limit of .08.

Last year Minnesota stiffened its DWI laws, adding provisions that drivers who blow over .16 or are repeat offenders can have ignition lock devices installed in their cars, forcing them to prove they haven’t been drinking before the vehicle will start.

What’s more, people can face multiple counts of DWI from the same incident, as Sovis does. “It’s possible that an arrested drunk driver be charged with multiple DWI-related violations, or multiple counts of charges following the arrest,” Kans writes. “Minnesota DWI laws allow multiple charges and view each count as an indication that an individual has possibly committed a particular violation. The charges are primarily used to determine the severity as well as the length of sentence, and to classify whether the committed crime is misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony.”

Check out our infographic of DUI statistics for more information.

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