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.
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 North Carolina 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, PLLC, we can help you address numerous DWI-related concerns, including, but not limited to:
- First DWI
- Second or Third DWI
- Felony DWI
- Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
- Underage DWI/DUI
- 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 DWI lawyer from Randall & Stump, PLLC today at 980-237-4579.
What Happened During Your DWI Stop?
When it comes to stopping drivers suspected of driving under the influence, the police in North Carolina 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 that a driver may be impaired 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 impairment 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 under the influence.
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 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.
Criminal DWI Penalties
in North Carolina
DWI sentencing in North Carolina 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 North Carolina, 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 North Carolina. 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, PLLC 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 across North Carolina, 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, PLLC, 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 North Carolina 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.