Understanding North Carolina DWI Laws
Defending DWI Charges in Mecklenburg County
At Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys, we realize that dealing with a DWI is frightening and extremely stressful, but you don’t need to go through it alone. Schedule a free consultation with our DWI attorneys today by calling (980) 237-4579. Attorney Ryan Stump and our other DWI attorneys have assisted countless individuals in state and federal court when drunk driving charges put their futures at risk. We know what it takes to fight back and to win.
Driving while impaired (DWI) is the official criminal charge for people accused of driving under the influence (DUI) in North Carolina. Regardless of its name, drinking and driving is a serious offense that could wreak havoc on your record, your career, and your personal life. With penalties including steep fines, the loss of your driver’s license, long periods of probation, and even time behind bars, the mistake people usually make when facing a DWI in North Carolina is taking the situation too lightly or casually accepting a guilty plea without consulting an experienced DWI attorney about the North Carolina criminal justice process.
Whether this is your first DWI offense or you have multiple prior DWIs, the stakes remain incredibly high. You may believe that it is in your best interest to merely cooperate with the prosecution because you may think you’re guilty just by being charged, but the truth is that you need to look out for yourself. By working with a highly-skilled Charlotte DWI lawyer, you can ensure your case is appropriately handled, and your drunk driving charge reaches the best possible conclusion. This could mean a complete dismissal of the charge, an acquittal, or reducing the offense to something more consistent with the facts.
To learn more about how our Charlotte DWI lawyers can help with your DWI case, call us right away or submit the details through our online form to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
BAC Limit and Other North Carolina DWI Laws
According to North Carolina General Statute (NCGS) 20-138.1, the offense of Driving While Impaired (DWI) occurs when a person operates any vehicle on a highway, street, or public vehicular area:
- While under the influence of an impairing substance,
- After consuming sufficient alcohol that you have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more, or
- With any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in your blood or urine.
In most circumstances, your BAC will be used to determine if you are operating a vehicle while impaired. For individuals 21 years old or older, your BAC limit is .08 percent. For people younger than 21 years old, any level of alcohol in your blood can result in an underage DWI. If you have a commercial driver’s license and are in a commercial vehicle, the BAC limit is .04 percent.
Additionally, you could be charged with a DWI without any alcohol in your system. For instance, you could be arrested for DWI if there is evidence you are under the influence of controlled substances, like illegal drugs, prescription medications, or over-the-counter medicines. If you were charged with a DWI in Charlotte, NC contact a local DWI defense attorney today at 980-237-4579.
It is also important to keep in mind that while your BAC is the most common way to establish impairment, it is not the only way. In cases where your BAC is below the legal guidelines, but other evidence of impairment exists, you can still be arrested and convicted. Essentially, this can be proven through the “appreciable” or noticeable impairment of the normal function of mental and/or physical faculties. Determining impairment this way largely depends on your driving, the officer’s observations, your behavior, and your performance during any field sobriety tests.
Types of North Carolina DWI Charges
People frequently become discouraged when facing a DWI in Charlotte because they believe there are no alternatives after an arrest. Regardless of your BAC level or the circumstances involved, our Charlotte DWI lawyers are committed to helping our clients avoid or reduce the consequences. No matter the situation, you have options to consider.
At Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys, we can help you address numerous DWI-related concerns, including, but not limited to:
- First DWI Offense
- Second or Third DWI Offenses
- Felony DWI Charges
- Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
- Underage DWI/DUI Charges
- Drugged Driving
- DWI with a CDL
- DWI on Probation
If you have been charged with any of the DWI offenses listed above, contact an experienced Charlotte DWI lawyer from Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys today at (980) 237-4579.
What Happened During Your DWI Stop?
When it comes to stopping drivers suspected of driving while impaired, the police in Charlotte cannot pull you over at random. They need a reason to justify the initial stop, which is called “reasonable suspicion.” Officers look for indicators or cues of intoxication to substantiate a traffic stop. Warning signs may initially include speeding, swerving, or failing to signal.
Once the officer approaches your car, they will be looking for evidence like the smell of alcohol or other illegal drugs, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and other indicators of impairment. As the officer speaks with you, they will be examining inside the car for evidence. Examples could include empty alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia.
DWI Field Sobriety Tests and Chemical Testing
If an officer believes enough evidence of DWI exists to warrant further investigation, you may be asked to submit to one or more standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) or field sobriety tests (FSTs). These tests allow an officer to observe your balance, physical ability, cognitive ability, attention level, or other factors that you were driving while impaired.
There are three standard FSTs established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test
- One-Leg Stand Test
- Walk-and-Turn Test
In North Carolina, you have the right to refuse any field sobriety test without fear of a criminal penalty. This right also extends to the preliminary breathalyzer test (PBT), which may be requested to gather a preliminary sample at the scene. The PBT is often confused with the mandatory breath test, usually administered at the station or as part of a DWI/DUI checkpoint. Per North Carolina’s implied consent law a refusal of the breath test at the police station carries a possible civil penalty to have your driver’s license revoked for up to one year.
How to Find the Best DWI Lawyer in Charlotte
In 2018 alone, there were 27,915 DWI arrests in North Carolina (518.82 per 100,000 people). And a DWI typically represents someone’s first encounter with the criminal system. Likewise, it’s usually the first time someone needs a defense lawyer.
We understand you’re likely stressed and worried about what a conviction could do to your life, but try to remain calm and think rationally about the type of representation you need.
Early intervention from an experienced and local DWI lawyer can significantly impact your case but finding the best possible DWI lawyer can feel like a massive undertaking. In the end, defense attorneys are not created equal, but here are some things to consider and hopefully make your search easier.
1. Be Honest With Yourself.
Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s easy to violate North Carolina’s legal limit. It’s a tricky spot to be in, but every DWI case can be improved. When you’re realistic about your circumstances and what you want to accomplish, it makes the process a lot easier for you and your potential attorney.
2. Don’t Deal with A DWI Alone.
You may think an obvious mistake occurred, and it’ll be easier to explain things yourself. However, the legal process is complicated, and you could be doing more harm than good. There are elements to a DWI case and administrative procedures most people are not qualified to handle by themselves. The system doesn’t forgive missteps easily, so it’s best to trust your case to a qualified attorney.
3. Public Defenders vs. A Private Attorney.
Most people know they have the right to a court-appointed defense attorney at no cost to you. And if you genuinely cannot afford representation, this option gives you some protection, but is it the best option? Public defenders are capable lawyers, but they have enormous caseloads and limited time to devote to your defense. When your license freedom and record are at stake in a DWI case, the decision to hire a private attorney is usually worth the investment. According to a U.S. Dept of Justice study, those with a private attorney are convicted less often.
4. Do Your Research.
Start by asking friends and family for recommendations. DWI charges in Charlotte are more common than you think, and you likely know someone who’s had a similar experience. Then, start googling, “DWI lawyers near me. Local experience is vital in DWI cases, and you should get a sense of what it’s like working with a firm from their website.
5. Check Out Their Reviews, Case Results & Blog.
What do past clients say about the results they received in their DWI case? Do they have a lot of success in similar DWI cases? And do they write articles about this area of law? Being a leader in a field as specific as DWI defense demonstrates their commitment and ability in and out of court.
Other things to look for are legal awards or specialized training regarding DUI defense. These are the lawyers who know where to look for weaknesses to befit your case, how to negotiate for favorable outcomes, ways to help you keep your license, and ultimately how to move on after a DWI.
6. Do a Free Consult & Trust Your Gut.
Most criminal defense firms offer a free consultation. Take advantage of a few free consultations from your top choices and hear what they say about your case. This should give you an impression of what it’ll be like working with them. Do they appreciate your concerns and what you want to accomplish?
If you want to prove your innocence, but the lawyer says they can get a plea quickly, you may want to move on. Likewise, if you get the sense you won’t work with the same attorney throughout the process, it can be a big red flag.
7. Ask Your Own Questions.
Having your own list of questions is an excellent way to gauge an attorney’s experience and skill level in DWI cases. This list isn’t meant to be compressive, but you may want to know things like:
- How many DWI cases have you handled?
- Do you frequently take DWIs to trial?
- What do you think my odds are of getting my DWI dismissed or reduced?
- Have you written any articles or given lectures about DWI Defense?
- Do you use expert witnesses or scientific research in DWI cases?
- Do you have the staff and resources to handle my DWI case?
8. Weigh Your Option & Take Your Time.
You may have a pending court date or feel pressured by some firms to decide in the moment. Try to avoid this, and consider which attorney is the best fit for you and your unique case. Who will take the time to build a unique strategy aimed at the things you care most about?
Remember, a fast plea can seem attractive in a DWI case unless any conviction will result in losing your job. You will likely only have one shot at defending against a DWI and will have to live with the outcome for a long time. So carefully evaluate your options and select the best DWI lawyer possible.
Criminal DWI Penalties in North Carolina
DWI sentencing in Charlotte after a conviction can be complicated. The NC DWI Sentencing Chart varies. Primarily, criminal DWI penalties depend upon the level of your precise DWI charge, which is determined by your BAC, any aggravating or mitigating factors, and your prior history. Additionally, North Carolina considers other “grossly aggravating” factors which can heighten the potential penalties.
These include previous convictions for Driving While License Revoked in relation to an impaired driving offense, if someone was seriously injured while you were driving under the influence, if there was a minor in the car at the time, or if you have had a DWI conviction within the last seven years.
DWI Level 5
This is the least severe DWI offense level. It generally results in an immediate license suspension for 30 days, with driving privileges available after 10 days, up to a $200 fine, between 24 hours and 60 days in jail, and a substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.
DWI Level 4
This may include license suspension for 30 days with the possibility of driving privileges after 10 days, up to a $500 fine, between 48 hours and 120 days in jail, and a substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.
DWI Level 3
This may include license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days, up to a $1,000 fine, between 72 hours and six months in jail, and a substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.
DWI Level 2
This may result in license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days, up to a $2,000 fine, between seven days and 12 months in jail with mandatory minimum of seven days, and substance abuse assessment.
DWI Level 1
This may involve license suspension for 30 days, with limited driving privileges available after 10 days, up to a $4,000 fine, between 30 days and 24 months of incarceration with mandatory minimum of 3 days, and a substance abuse assessment.
Aggravated DWI Level 1
This is the most severe DWI offense level and is applied when there are at least three grossly aggravating factors present. These will escalate the criminal penalties to a license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days, up to a $10,000 fine, between 12 months and 36 months of incarceration, monitored abstinence from alcohol for four months after release, and a substance abuse assessment.
If you have been arrested for your fourth DWI in the last 10 years, you will be facing a felony DWI charge for habitual impaired driving. A Habitual DWI conviction can result in a mandatory 12-month prison sentence, permanent license revocation, mandatory substance abuse treatment, and possible vehicle forfeiture among other serious penalties.
Collateral Consequences of a DWI
Aside from possible time in jail, thousands of dollars in fines, and losing the ability to drive, the implications of a DWI conviction do not end there. Repercussions can also spread to other parts of your life:
- Difficulty finding employment with a DWI on your record
- Lost time off from school or work
- Adverse effects to any custody or visitation agreements
- Higher insurance premiums
What Happens to Your License After a DWI?
A DWI charge does not stop the requirements of everyday life. You still need to get to work, pick your children up from school, and grocery shop.
Most people quickly realize how dependent they are on the ability to drive. Unfortunately, following a DWI in Charlotte, your license will automatically be suspended for 30 days while your case is pending. This routine suspension will not only be inconvenient, but it could put your career and personal life in jeopardy.
What Can a Charlotte DWI Lawyer Do to Help?
It is easy to become discouraged when facing a DWI in Charlotte. There is a lot involved, and you have valid fears. But keep in mind, there are always options to consider and various ways to reduce or eliminate the negative impact on you. Your first step should be to contact a veteran Charlotte DWI attorney from Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys who will scrutinize every detail and explore any option that benefits your situation.
With an impressive history of successfully representing clients in various DWI cases throughout Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, we know what officers look for, how prosecutors build cases, and what it takes to obtain the best possible results. We’ll begin by evaluating your situation and identifying any flaws in the evidence. Our DWI defense lawyers are well-versed in the training and testing methods officers use. This includes recognizing the fault associated with Drug Recognition Evaluators (DRE), where officers are trained to recognize physical signs of impairment in drugged driving, particularly in prescription cases.
We will also review any BAC test results to dispute their accuracy, the officers’ conduct at the scene to pinpoint their mistakes, the validity of the plan put in place during any checkpoint to determine its constitutionality, and any physical limitations that may have affected your field sobriety test performance. From there, we will craft and execute a defense strategy that gives you the best chance at success, while simultaneously protecting your driver’s license.
At Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys, we know this is a confusing time, and you’ll have a lot of questions. We want you to have as much information as possible when defending against a Charlotte DWI. That’s why we encourage you to review some of the most frequently asked DWI questions that we’ve put together for your convenience.