Penalties of a Marijuana DWI in North Carolina
Most North Carolina residents know what the criminal charge of “driving while impaired” (DWI) means. But you may not realize that the charge applies to driving while impaired due to alcohol or drugs. If law enforcement believes impaired driving is due to marijuana, you face the same DWI charge as if you had consumed alcohol and the same serious penalties, if convicted.
The good news is that a marijuana DWI can be hard to prove. Currently, there’s not a reliable field test for sobriety linked to pot use and a urine or blood concentration of THC, the euphoria producing ingredient in marijuana, isn’t a dependable indicator of whether you were driving while impaired. To avoid consequences ranging from fines, loss of driving privileges, and jail time, you need the experienced DWI attorneys at Randall & Stump, PLLC. We know how to fight such charges, so that you avoid a criminal record that could undermine your job prospects, housing opportunities, or even result in preventing you from getting federal student loans.
Unlike alcohol, where the state has set definite blood alcohol standards that prove impairment, no such standard has been set for a level of THC in the blood. Lawmakers are stymied by the properties of THC, which doesn’t appear in urine or blood for several hours after partaking. In addition, once in the body, THC stays for days, even weeks, so it is hard to tell when a person last ingested or smoked it. Regular pot users are potentially at higher risk for a possible marijuana DWI charge because a blood test will likely show THC present.
Because of a lack of scientific proof of impairment, the state is forced to prove “appreciable impairment” to win a case against you on a marijuana DWI charge. To do that, the officer must testify and offer proof that your mental and/or physical faculties were appreciably (i.e. noticeably) impaired at a time relevant to driving. For example, the office may testify that your judgment was impaired because you were weaving over the centerline or into the berm, going too fast or too slow, were tailgating, or passing unsafely. The office may also testify about your poor performance on any Standardized Field Sobriety Tests or roadside testing, which assisted him in determing that you were impaired. Other evidence possibly presented could be if the officer smelled marijuana or you exhibited any physical signs of impairment such as bloodshot eyes.
Possible Penalties for Marijuana DWI Conviction
Under North Carolina law, a marijuana DWI is a misdemeanor. The circumstances of your arrest and whether you have prior convictions are typically determinative of whether you are charged with the lesser or greater charge.
Misdemeanor DWIs, unlike other misdemeanors, are sentenced by “levels,” according to state statutes. Those levels are determined based on several factors that might include having a child in the car, driving record, harm caused, test results, or prior offenses.
A first-time offender, with no special circumstances such as an accident, likely would be sentenced at the lowest DWI punishment level, a Level 5 for sentencing purposes. If sentenced as a Level 5 DWI for marijuana, you could receive a fine of up to $200 and a minimum jail sentence of at least 24 hours. Understand that a conviction or refusal to have your blood tested will also result in an administrative penalty related to your driver’s license—typically a 12-month suspension.
If convicted of a level one misdemeanor for marijuana DWI, you face a fine of up to $4,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days, plus your administrative driver’s license penalty. Obviously, jail time alone would likely lead to loss of your employment, which makes a conviction extremely serious
Should you have prior drug or alcohol DWI convictions, you may be subject to a felony DWI charge. The penalties are much more severe, including a year in jail, losing your driving privileges for life, and the state may even sell your vehicle.
Consult with Us Before Pleading Guilty to a Marijuana DWI
It may seem easier to just put a marijuana DWI charge behind you by pleading guilty, especially if this is the first offense. But you’d be doing yourself a disservice and potentially greater harm. Our experienced Charlotte criminal lawyers know how to fight your marijuana DWI charge so that you may avoid serious consequences, including having a permanent record, loss of driving privileges, fines, and even jail time. Before you take a plea, contact Randall & Stump, PLLC at (980) 237-4579 for a free, confidential case consultation.