In North Carolina, you can be charged with driving while impaired (DWI) if you allegedly:
- Drive while under the influence of intoxicating substances
- Drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher
- Drive with any amount of a Schedule 1 controlled substance in your system (Schedule 1 drugs include LSD, opiates, heroin, and ecstasy)
When stopped for driving under the influence (DWI), the officer will probably request two assessments at the location where you were pulled over. The first is a field sobriety test, which typically includes exercises such as walking in a straight line, standing on one foot, or tracking an object with your eyes. This is usually followed by a roadside breath test, where you will be asked to exhale into a machine that measures your breath's alcohol content.
Some things you should do if you are stopped for a DWI include:
Step 1: Don’t Answer Questions About Your Drinking
It's important to NEVER answer questions about your drinking to the police. They may ask you how impaired you are on a scale of 1 to 10, but this is a trick question as they only need to show that you are affected by alcohol, not drunk, to convict you of DWI. Therefore, any answer above zero is an admission of impairment. You have the right to refuse to answer their questions.
Step 2: Refuse the Field Sobriety Tests
Similarly, you are not obligated to take either of the tests. It's best to politely decline unless you're confident you're sober, as even a single cocktail can affect your ability to pass these tests. If there's any doubt, it's best to refuse as it makes it harder for the police officer to justify an arrest to a judge. Remember that you have the right to say "No" and should never give up your rights.
If there is any reason to doubt, DON’T do it. The police officer may arrest you, but by choosing not to take the field sobriety tests and the portable breath test, you are making it much harder for the police officer to justify the arrest to a judge. You have the right to say, “No.” Don’t give up your rights.
Step 3: Call a Witness
If you do decide to take a breath test after an arrest, call a witness! You can have a witness watch you take the test as long as they can get to the police station within 30 minutes. Even if they can't, the delay can often be enough to lower your breath and blood alcohol levels below the legal limit.
As an attorney, my top priority is to ensure the best possible outcome for my clients. I despise losing, and I will explore every available path to achieve success. To do so, I carefully listen to every detail, aggressively gather evidence, and design a case with the highest chances of winning.
I will investigate the reasonable suspicion that led to your stop, analyze breath and blood tests (if conducted), and examine your field sobriety test results. To learn more about how I would defend your case, please visit my "Defense of a DUI" page.
Although first-time offenses are usually classified as misdemeanors, it's crucial not to underestimate their severity. North Carolina has strict DWI laws that can result in incarceration, hefty fines, license suspension, and other penalties, even for first-time offenders.
North Carolina has five levels of DWI charges, with Level One being the most serious and Level Five being the least severe. The offense level is determined by weighing aggravating factors against mitigating factors. Aggravating factors may include reckless driving, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and gross impairment (BAC of .15% or higher). Mitigating factors include mild impairment, a safe driving record, and impairment caused by a lawful drug.
For a DWI to be charged as a Level One or Two offense, gross aggravating factors must be present. These include prior DWI convictions within the last seven years, driving with a minor passenger in the car, driving with a revoked license due to a prior DWI, and causing serious injury due to impairment.
A single gross aggravating factor leads to Level Two charges, while two gross aggravating factors result in Level One charges. If a driver is alleged to have three or more aggravating factors, they can face aggravated Level One penalties. It is crucial to hire a DWI defense lawyer to help challenge the prosecution's case and protect your future, as a DWI conviction can have long-lasting effects on your everyday life even after serving the sentence.
The penalties associated with a DWI conviction vary depending on the level of the charge. Here's a breakdown:
Level Five: A maximum fine of $200 and jail time between 24 hours and 60 days. The sentence may be suspended if the defendant spends at least 24 hours in jail or completes 24 hours of community service.
Level Fou: A fine of up to $500 and jail time ranging from 48 hours to 120 days. The sentence may be suspended if the defendant spends 48 hours in jail or completes 48 hours of community service.
Level Three: A fine of no more than $1,000 and jail time between 72 hours and six months. The sentence may be suspended if the defendant completes 72 hours of community service or spends 72 hours in jail.
Level Two: A maximum fine of $2,000 and jail time ranging from seven days to one year.
Level One: A fine of up to $4,000 and jail time between 30 days and two years.
Level A1: This is the most severe DWI sentencing level, imposed if there are three or more aggravating factors involved. A conviction may result in a maximum three-year active sentence with a minimum term of one year confinement, plus a fine up to $10,000.
Probation for any of the above offenses requires the defendant to undergo a substance abuse assessment and complete alcohol education or treatment to restore their driver's license.
A DWI conviction can have long-lasting effects, such as difficulty finding employment, housing, or obtaining student aid due to a criminal record. Hiring a DWI defense lawyer is crucial in challenging the prosecution's case and protecting your future.
In North Carolina, individuals under the age of 21 are prohibited from driving after consuming alcohol. If an underage driver is found to have a detectable amount of alcohol in their system through a test, they may face a DWI charge. Upon being charged, the driver's license is automatically revoked for 30 days before the trial. If convicted, the driver may face a revocation of their license for a year in addition to the penalties for DWI.