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Understanding North Carolina DWI Laws

Types of North Carolina DWI Charges

We can help you address numerous DWI-related concerns, including, but not limited to:

If you have been charged with any DWI offense, contact an experienced Charlotte DWI attorney from Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys, today at (980) 237-4579.

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,
  • With 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 determine if you operate 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.

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. Determining impairment this way largely depends on your driving, the officer’s observations, behavior, and performance during field sobriety tests.

DWI Field Sobriety Tests and Chemical Testing in NC

Suppose an officer believes enough evidence of DWI exists to warrant further investigation. In that case, 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.

You can refuse any field sobriety test in North Carolina 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.

Defending Against DWI Charges in Charlotte, NC

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. The biggest mistake people usually make when facing a DWI in North Carolina is taking the situation too lightly or casually accepting a guilty plea.

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.

Challenging Your Charlotte DWI Stop

When stopping drivers suspected of driving while impaired, the police in Charlotte cannot pull you over randomly. They need a reason to justify the initial stop, 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 look 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 examine inside the car for evidence. Examples could include empty alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia.

How to Find the Best DUI Lawyer in Charlotte

There were over 20,000 DWI convictions in North Carolina in 2020, and a DWI typically represents someone’s first encounter with the criminal system.

Early intervention from an experienced local DWI attorney can significantly impact your case, but finding the best one can feel like a massive undertaking. 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.

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 do more harm than good. There are elements to a DWI case and administrative procedures most people are not qualified to handle alone. The system doesn’t forgive missteps easily, so it’s best to trust your case to a qualified DWI attorney.

3. Public Defenders vs. A Private Attorney.

Most people know they have the right to a court-appointed defense attorney. If you genuinely cannot afford representation, this option gives you some protection, but is it the best option? Public defenders are capable lawyers but have enormous caseloads and limited time to devote to your defense.

When your license, freedom, and record are at stake, the decision to hire a DWI private attorney is usually worth the investment.

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. You can also search online “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 cases? Does the firm 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 lawyers know where to look for weaknesses in the case against you, how to negotiate for favorable outcomes, and ways to help you keep your license.

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. They should understand your concerns and your desired outcome.

If you want to prove your innocence, but the lawyer says they can get a plea quickly, you may want to move on. Likewise, it can be a big red flag if you get the sense you won’t work with the same attorney throughout the process.

7. Ask Your Own Questions.

Having a list of questions is an excellent way to gauge an attorney’s experience and skill level in DWI cases. 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 Options & Take Your Time.

You may have a pending court date or feel pressured by some firms to decide in the moment. Before making a choice, consider which attorney is the best fit for you and your unique case.

A fast plea can seem attractive in a DWI case. However, you will likely only have one shot at defending against a DWI and have to live with the outcome for a long time. Carefully evaluate your options and select the best DWI lawyer possible.

Penalties and Jail Time for a DUI 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 a 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 at least three grossly aggravating factors are 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.

Habitual DWI in NC

If you have been arrested for your fourth DWI in the last 10 years, you will face 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 in North Carolina

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 in North Carolina?

A DWI charge does not stop the requirements of everyday life. You still need to get to work, take care of your family, and run errands.

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 could jeopardize your career and personal life.

What Can a Charlotte DUI Lawyer Do to Help?

It is easy to become discouraged when facing a DWI in Charlotte. But remember that there are always options to consider and various ways to minimize 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 attorneys are well-versed in officers’ training and testing methods. 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 checkpoints to determine their 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.

We want you to have as much information as possible when defending against a 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.