In 1957, Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler & Thomas began providing residents of North Carolina with superior legal service and counsel. Since then, North Carolina has changed dramatically including the stance on drunk driving. In 2015 alone, North Carolina law enforcement handed out more than 22,000 citations for drivers accused of operating vehicles under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Since a large number of residents are choosing to drink and then drive, the DWI attorneys of our Wendell and Raleigh law firm have provided a resource to help explain what someone charged with a DWI* may face.

*The acronyms DWI/DUI are commonly interchanged to describe the charge of impaired driving but since 1983 the Safe Roads Act which officially defines operating a vehicle after consuming drugs or alcohol as “driving while impaired” or DWI.

How North Carolina Determines Impairment

dwi raleigh lawyerThe standard method for determining a driver’s level of intoxication is by testing the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) with either a breathalyzer or blood test. The State can prove impairment by the use of a breathalyzer or blood test or by showing appreciable impairment of a person’s mental or physical faculties.

North Carolina Legal Limits of BAC:

  • 21 and older – .08%
  • Under 21 – any measurable amount
  • Commercial drivers (CDL) – .04%
  • Prior DWI – .04%

North Carolina DWI Administrative Penalties

A driver charged with DWI in North Carolina faces a number of potential administrative penalties. Most DWI arrests result in an automatic 30-day civil license revocation with the possibility of a pre-trial limited driving privilege 10 days after being charged. A driver that refuses a chemical test will receive a 30-day civil license revocation pending a hearing which must be scheduled with the NC DMV. If the hearing officer determines that there was a willful refusal, the driver is subject to a 1-year suspension. A DWI conviction will also result in substantially increased car insurance rates.

North Carolina DWI Criminal Penalties

Each driver convicted of a DWI is subjected to criminal penalties based on the sentencing level which are determined by the Court after weighing mitigating, aggravating and grossly aggravating factors as outlined in G.S. § 20-179 and listed below.

Grossly Aggravating Factors

  • Prior DWI conviction if:
    • Within 7 years of the current offense date
    • Conviction occurs after the date of present offense, but prior to or contemporaneous with the present sentencing, OR
    • Conviction occurred in district court, case was appealed to superior court, the appeal was withdrawn or case was remanded, and new sentencing hearing was not held
  • Driving while license revoked for an impaired driving offense
  • Serious injury to another person caused by the impaired driving
  • Driving with a child under 18, a person with the mental development of a child under 18, or a person with a physical disability preventing an unaided exit from the vehicle

Aggravating Factors

  • Gross impairment, as evidenced by a BAC of .15% or higher
  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving
  • Driving while license revoked
  • Two or more prior convictions for which at least 3 points are assigned or for which a person’s license is subject to revocation, if the convictions occurred within the past 5 years
  • One or more prior DWI conviction outside of 7 years
  • Conviction of speeding while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension
  • Conviction of speeding at least 30 MPH over legal limit
  • Passing a stopped school bus
  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense

Mitigating Factors

  • Slight impairment resulting solely from alcohol, as evidenced by a BAC of .09% or less
  • Slight impairment resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analyst having been available
  • Safe and lawful driving except for impairment
  • Safe driving record (no convictions for any motor vehicle offense for which 4 points are assigned or for which a person’s license is subject to revocation within 5 years)
  • Impairment caused primarily by a lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition taken within the prescribed dosage
  • Voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment and voluntary compliance with treatment
  • Substance abuse assessment and compliance with recommended treatment, and maintaining 60 days of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as verified by CAM
  • Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense (i.e., polite and cooperative with law enforcement officers or an honorable discharge from the military)

The 5 DWI Levels

Level 5

Imposed when mitigating factors substantially outweigh any aggravating factors OR if convicted of aiding and abetting a DWI

  • Fine: up to $200
  • Imprisonment; 24 hours -60 days
    • May be suspended for a probationary sentence to include 24 hours of imprisonment or 24 hours of community service, plus a substance abuse assessment and compliance with recommended treatment

Level 4

Imposed when no aggravating or mitigating factors are found OR when the aggravating factors are substantially counterbalanced by mitigating factors

  • Fine: up to $500
  • Imprisonment: 48 hours -120 days
    • May be suspended for a probationary sentence to include 48 hours of imprisonment or 48 hours of community service, plus a substance abuse assessment and compliance with recommended treatment

Level 3

Imposed when aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors

  • Fine: up to $1000
  • Imprisonment: 72 hours – 6 months
    • May be suspended for a probationary sentence to include 72 hours of imprisonment or 72 hours of community service, plus a substance abuse assessment and compliance with recommended treatment

Level 2

Imposed if a child under 18, a person with the mental development of a child under 18, or a person with a physical disability preventing an unaided exit from the vehicle is NOT in the vehicle AND only one other grossly aggravating factor applies

  • Fine: up to $2,000
  • Imprisonment: 7 days – 12 months
    • May be suspended for a probationary sentence to include at least 7 days of imprisonment OR to abstain from consuming alcohol for at least 90 days, as verified by CAM, plus a substance abuse assessment and compliance with recommended treatment
      • If there is pre-trial CAM monitoring, up to 60 days may be credited toward the 90-day requirement for probation
  • If the grossly aggravating factor of a prior DWI or DWLR-impaired within 5 years is found and the judge suspends the active sentence and imposes abstention of alcohol consumption, as verified by CAM, the judge must also include 240 hours of community service as a special condition of probation

Level 1

Imposed if a child under 18, a person with the mental development of a child under 18, or a person with a physical disability preventing an unaided exit from the vehicle IS in the vehicle OR two other grossly aggravating factors apply

  • Fine: up to $4,000
  • Imprisonment: 30 days – 24 months
    • May be suspended for a probationary sentence to include at least 30 days of imprisonment, plus a substance abuse assessment and compliance with recommended treatment
      • Judge may reduce the term of imprisonment to 10 days if CAM is imposed as a special condition of probation to verify alcohol consumption abstention for a period of 120 days (up to 60 days of pre-trial CAM monitoring may be credited toward the 120-day requirement for probation)

NOTE: if Level 1 or 2 punishments are imposed, the judge may impose, as a condition of probation, abstention from alcohol consumption for a minimum of 30 days to a maximum of the term of probation, as verified by CAM

Aggravated Level 1

Imposed if three or more grossly aggravating factors apply 

  • Fine: up to $10,000
  • Imprisonment: 12 months – 36 months
    • Not eligible for parole but may be released 4 months prior to maximum term imposed for post-release supervision and must abstain from alcohol consumption during post-release supervision, as verified by CAM
    • May be suspended for a probationary sentence to include at least 120 days (or for the entire probationary period), as verified by CAM, plus a substance abuse assessment and compliance with recommended treatment

Revocation as a Result of a Conviction

Post-conviction, there is a minimum mandatory license revocation period of one year. However, if sentenced at a level 3, 4 or 5, you may be eligible for a limited driving privilege (LDP) if at the time of the offense the driver held a valid license or held a license that had been expired for less than a year. If a driver convicted of a DWI had BAC of .15% or higher, the LDP will include a mandate for ignition interlock.
 

Speak with an Experienced Raleigh DWI Lawyer

While a DWI charge is a serious offense, the State must provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt before the Court will return a guilty verdict. It is imperative to seek counsel from an experienced DWI lawyer who can help reduce your potential sentence and help with license restoration.

If you have been charged with operating a vehicle while impaired, our Raleigh DWI lawyers are available for a consultation by calling (919) 615-2473 or by completing the online contact form. Don’t wait until your case goes to trial, speak with one of our attorneys today!

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