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North Carolina DWI Laws: Everything You Need to Know

What is the difference between DWI vs DUI in North Carolina? Before 1983, NC had both DUI and DWI laws. However, NC’s impaired driving laws now fall under DWI statutes. 

But what does DWI mean? And what are the consequences? Let’s look at North Carolina’s DWI laws and answer all of your questions.

What Exactly is a DWI Charge in North Carolina?

DWI is the only charge in North Carolina for “Driving While Impaired” with any substance, whether prescription meds, alcohol, or street drugs.

You can face charges for DWI if police find you:

  • With a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08% or more no matter what your age
  • While under the influence of an impairing substance
  • With any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance, as listed in G.S. 90-89 , or its metabolites in his blood or urine.
  • An officer believes they have reason to pull you over and bring you to the station for blood testing for other substances.

DWI Per Se

If officers catch you driving while impaired and your alcohol BAC is 0.08% or higher, you’ll face “DWI per se” charges. The DA will try to convict you based on the fact that your BAC was .08% even if you did not “appear” impaired. 

DWI By Impairment

The other way to be convicted of DWI is if the prosecutor can prove your ability to drive was impaired, even if your BAC was below 0.08% or if the DA doesn’t have a BAC or evidence of what substances may have been in your body at the time. To verify your impairment, a prosecutor can show that your drinking or drug use made you unable to operate a vehicle safely. 

Factors to prove a DWI by impairment include: 

  • Slurred speech or bloodshot eyes
  • Failed field sobriety tests
  • Poor driving such as an accident, swerving, etc. 

DWI Charges

Keep in mind that it’s possible that the prosecutor may try to prove your case with both DWI per se and DWI by impairment. If your BAC is 0.08% or more AND the prosecutor can prove that you were impaired, the prosecutor can prove their case either way.

Receiving a DWI in NC

Who Can Face DWI Charges?

Whether you possess a North Carolina driver’s license is irrelevant to being charged with DWI. You can face criminal charges in NC for DWI no matter where you are license or even if you’ve never legally had a license to drive.

Where Can I Face DWI Charges?

An officer can arrest you for DWI anywhere the public can generally drive. NC law changed in 2006 to include any area “used by the public for vehicular traffic at any time.” You can even get a DWI for drinking in your parked car in a closed business parking lot if you are considered “operating” the vehicle at the time.

You can also get a DWI in your car even if you don’t possess alcohol on yourself or in your vehicle. 

For example, let’s say you were out to dinner with friends and had four beers. You start driving home, but realize you’re intoxicated. So you try to do the right thing by pulling over to sleep in an empty parking lot. But if your engine is on and you are the vehicle’s driver, an officer can charge you with DWI even if you’re parked and trying to sleep. 

Let’s say that instead, you came out of the restaurant where you had the beers and plopped down in your car to sleep. You never left the parking lot and didn’t attempt to drive. In this case, an officer can still arrest and charge you with DWI if you’re in the driver’s seat with the car on! 

Which Vehicles Can Bring a DWI?

Driving a scooter, bicycle, or golf cart in your subdivision cul de sac with higher than .08 BAC can also earn you a DWI. Many individuals wrongly assume that driving a golf cart home is okay if they’ve been drinking. After all, how bad can you hurt others while driving a golf cart?

The truth is that any vehicle you drive while drinking can bring you a DWI in NC. Even operating a lawnmower on public property with over .08 BAC can bring DWI charges!

And, it doesn’t matter if you drive your car or someone else’s vehicle. Driving a friend’s car while intoxicated can also result in DWI charges. 

What are the Consequences of DWI Conviction?

There are many consequences related to DWI convictions. Many of those consequences relate to your ability to drive legally. For instance, refusing to take a chemical BAC test after being arrested for suspicion of DWI can result in a suspension of your driver’s license for one year, regardless of whether you are later convicted of the DWI or not!

You will lose your right to drive for one year if it’s a first-time DWI conviction. The suspensions are longer if it’s not your first offense. You lose your right to drive for four years after a second offense and permanently lose driving rights if you have three or more DWIs.

In addition to driver’s license suspensions, DWI penalties may include these consequences:

  • Thousands of dollars in court costs and fines
  • Possible or mandatory jail time
  • Probation
  • Alcohol abstinence through an alcohol monitoring device
  • Community service requirements
  • Enrollment in alcohol or substance abuse education courses
  • Higher car insurance premiums
  • Additional penalties from the Department of Transportation

The state of North Carolina’s penalties depend on many factors, including, but not limited to your:

  • BAC level at the time of the arrest
  • Number of prior offenses 
  • Driver’s license classification
  • Age
  • Aggravating and mitigating factors

An aggravated Level 1 DWI is extremely serious and occurs any time someone has three or more grossly aggravating factors such as:

  • Prior convictions within 7 years
  • A child in the car under 18
  • Seriously injuring someone
  • Driving on a suspended driver’s license

The penalties for a first-time aggravated Level 1 DWI are up to $10,000 in fines, 12 to 36 months in jail, and monitored sobriety for four months after release.

What If I’m Arrested for DWI in North Carolina?

Because the consequences of a DWI conviction remain on your record permanently with no chance of expungement, it is crucial to seek legal assistance as soon as possible if you are arrested and charged with DWI in North Carolina.

An excellent lawyer will help you understand your charges and potential penalties and work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for your case. If you’re facing DWI charges, contact an experienced DWI attorney for the best defense!

We Can Help

At Scharff Law, we have defended countless people accused of DWI, and we know how to get results. We understand that people sometimes make mistakes, and we will work tirelessly on your behalf to ensure you are treated fairly by the justice system.

If you or a loved one is facing DWI charges, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation. We will review your case and advise you of all your legal options. Let us put our experience to work for you!