In North Carolina, 34% of fatal traffic accidents involve a driver who has consumed alcohol. To discourage vehicle operators from driving while impaired or intoxicated (DWI), the state imposes severe penalties on drivers who get behind the wheel while under the influence. If convicted for DWI (also known as driving under the influence, or DUI) in North Carolina, these penalties can haunt you for the rest of your life.
Defending Clients Against DWI Charges
North Carolina takes DWI very seriously, and the laws surrounding DWI are complex. Using a graduated scale of penalties, a sentencing judge will take into consideration various aggravating and mitigating factors when determining the level of punishment to impose. In most cases, DWI penalties will include driver’s license suspension, jail time, and a fine.
However, criminal penalties are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the long-term consequences of a DWI conviction. Having a DWI on your criminal record may cause problems in many walks of life. You might:
- Fail a background check, which could sabotage your prospects of getting a job, receiving financial aid or a college scholarship, or being approved to rent housing.
- Have to pay higher rates for car insurance, because insurance companies consider drivers who have been convicted of DWI to be higher-risk. You could even lose your coverage completely.
- Lose the freedom that comes along with having a driver’s license. Being unable to drive will impact your ability to get to work on time, participate in social activities, and run errands.
- Feel strain in your personal and professional relationships. The stigma surrounding drinking and driving can cause you to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or even ostracized.
- Be deemed an “unfit parent” in a child custody dispute and lose the right to visit or care for your children.
- Be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle, and assume the costs of its installation and subscription fees.
- Have to participate in an alcohol safety school or substance abuse education program.
With so much at stake in a DWI case, it’s vital you retain expert legal representation. At Parrott Law Firm, we understand the devastating effects that a DWI conviction can have on your life and livelihood, so we work toward a resolution that is as quick and painless as possible. We have experience litigating a broad array of criminal defense and personal injury cases, so you can have confidence in our ability to navigate North Carolina’s complex DWI laws.
Driving While Impaired (DWI) Legal Limits
In North Carolina, a driver is considered impaired or intoxicated when he or she has consumed enough alcohol to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. However, BAC doesn’t tell the whole story. A driver with a lower BAC who is demonstrating significant impairment, such as slurring, swerving, or vomiting, may still be charged with DWI. Conversely, a driver with a BAC above 0.08% who did not otherwise show signs of impairment may be able to prove to a judge or jury that he or she was not impaired.
Drivers can also be charged with DWI if they are found to be impaired by prescription pharmaceuticals, over-the-counter medications, or illegal drugs.
Zero Tolerance For Underage Drivers
Underage drinking and driving is not tolerated in North Carolina. Drivers under the age of 21 who have any amount of alcohol in their system will lose their license on the spot for 30 days, and for up to one year if convicted of underage DWI.
Commercial Driver DWI
Operators of commercial vehicles are held to a higher standard than other drivers in North Carolina. Commercial drivers with a BAC of 0.04% or higher face a one-year license suspension for a first offense and will lose their driver’s license for life with a second offense.
DWI Sentencing in North Carolina
In most cases, driving while impaired is a misdemeanor in North Carolina. A defendant can be convicted of six different levels of DWI, ranging from Level 5 (lowest) to A1 (highest). A Level 5 DWI will have the least severe punishment and a Level A1 DWI will have the most severe punishment.
In determining the level of DWI, a judge considers various factors that might render the offense more or less serious. These factors are known as aggravating factors and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors that are especially serious are known as grossly aggravating factors.
A complete listing of mitigating, aggravating, and grossly aggravating factors as outlined in N.C.G.S. § 20-179 may be referenced here. These factors include:
Mitigating Factors in DWI
- BAC that does not exceed 0.09%
- Safe and lawful driving at the time of the offense
- An otherwise safe driving record that is free of other motor vehicle offenses
- Impairment due to a legally prescribed drug for a medical condition
- Voluntary participation in mental health treatment or a substance abuse program
Aggravating Factors in DWI
- A BAC level that exceeds 0.15%
- Reckless driving at the time of the offense
- Negligent driving that led to an accident
- Driving with a suspended or revoked license
- Prior convictions for motor vehicle offenses on the driver’s record
- Passing a stopped school bus
Grossly Aggravating Factors in DWI
- A prior conviction for impaired driving
- Driving with a suspended or revoked license due to DWI
- Negligent driving that led to serious injury to another person
- Driving with a child under the age of 18, a mentally disabled person, or a physically disabled person in the vehicle at the time of the offense
DWI Punishments in North Carolina
After considering the mitigating and aggravating factors, the sentencing judge will assign the DWI a level. N.C.G.S. § 20-179 outlines minimum and maximum punishments for each level, as summarized here:
Level Five DWI
- Minimum: 24 hours imprisonment
- Maximum: 60 days imprisonment, $200 fine
Level Four DWI
- Minimum: 48 hours imprisonment
- Maximum: 120 days imprisonment, $500 fine
Level Three DWI
- Minimum: 72 hours imprisonment
- Maximum: 6 months imprisonment, $1,000 fine
Level Two DWI
- Minimum: 7 days imprisonment
- Maximum: 12 months imprisonment, $2,000 fine
Level One DWI
- Minimum: 30 days imprisonment
- Maximum: 24 months imprisonment, $4,000 fine
Aggravated Level One (A-1) DWI
- Minimum: 12 months imprisonment
- Maximum: 36 months imprisonment, $10,000 fine
Fight DWI Charges with a Raleigh DWI Lawyer
At Parrott Law Firm, our Raleigh DWI lawyers are committed to protecting our clients’ legal rights and providing expert legal counsel tailored to your individual needs. Our goals are twofold. In the short term, we aim to minimize the effects of the DWI charge on your daily life, by advocating for limited driving privileges that allow you to travel to work or school. Meanwhile, we work tirelessly to have the charges dismissed or reduced. To learn more about how we can help you fight your DWI charges, please contact us today to set up a free consultation.