Top 7 Mitigating Factors When Facing DWI Charges
When facing DWI charges, mitigating factors can be the difference between jail time and a slap on the wrist. Mitigating factors are reasons why an individual may be treated less harshly for breaking the law. In North Carolina, seven mitigating factors can help reduce your sentence. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
What is a Mitigating Factor?
Mitigating circumstances in your case are factors that support leniency for your penalties. For example, if you have a starving family and steal bread, the judge may see your criminal act as an unusual circumstance. You could receive a lighter penalty for your criminal activity.
When there is a complicated personal history or evidence that a defendant’s character is generally good and the defendant committed no prior crimes, a judge may look leniently on circumstances surrounding a crime.
The sentencing process in North Carolina is often mandated as a minimum amount of time in prison for each type of crime, depending on your prior criminal history. However, if your criminal case has common mitigating circumstances, sentencing judges are more likely to recommend a lesser sentence, even if you are found guilty in your court case.
In general, when a court case’s jury or judge finds mitigating factors that outweigh any aggravating factors, the court may impose a lighter sentence. An example would be one of the penalties described from the mitigated range in G.S. 15A-1340.17(c)(3).
A defense attorney may present evidence of mitigating factors to the judge to reduce your penalties for a crime. For example, if you, the defendant, have no criminal record and played a minor role in a drug deal while causing no harm to others, courts may see you as possessing mitigating factors.
Now let’s see how mitigating factors play a part in DWI charges in North Carolina.
The Top 7 Mitigating Factors for DWI Charges
Some mitigating factors that may help a DWI case include those listed in North Carolina law G.S. 20-179(e).
There was a slight impairment of your faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and your alcohol concentration did not exceed 0.09 at any relevant time after driving.
There was a slight impairment of your faculties resulting solely from alcohol; no chemical test was made available to you.
Your driving was safe and lawful except for the impairment of your faculties.
You have a safe driving record with no convictions of any motor vehicle offense for at least four points (G.S. 20-16) or for which your license is subject to revocation within the five (5) years before this offense.
A lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition primarily caused the impairment of your faculties, and you were taking an amount of the medical drug within the prescribed dosage.
After being charged in this case with impaired driving, you voluntarily submitted yourself to a mental health facility for assessment and willingly participated in any treatment recommended by such facility (if they recommended treatment).
Or, you completed a substance abuse assessment, complied with recommendations, and simultaneously maintained 60 days of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring system of a type
approved by the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.
Additional factors that mitigate the seriousness of this offense include mental illness, reasonable doubt, extreme stress, or another mitigating factor. Your defense attorney may use mitigating factors to help convince the prosecutor to reduce or drop charges or help a judge reduce a sentence to a lesser time in prison.
Your defense attorney could also argue that you were always polite and cooperative with the officers, which should be considered.
Aggravated Factors in DWI Penalties
It’s crucial to consult with a DWI attorney regarding your potential aggravating factors. These are the factors that can bring harsher penalties.
Law enforcement officers may charge you with “DWI.” However, prosecutors and attorneys understand that aggravating and mitigating factors will play a part in any potential trial or court decision.
Aggravating factors may include:
- DWI with BAC of 0.15 percent or gross impairment of the driver’s faculties.
- Driving dangerously or recklessly.
- Negligent driving, which led to an accident.
- Driving with a revoked license (non-DWI related).
- Going by a stopped school bus.
- Speeding while fleeing or attempting to avoid arrest.
- Driving at least 30 mph over the posted speed limit.
- Two or more prior convictions for a traffic violation (non-DWI related) costing three points.
- One or more prior DWI conviction occurrences more than seven years before the current offense.
Grossly Aggravating Factors are Much Worse
A few extra aggravated factors can contribute to the seriousness of your sentence for driving while intoxicated.
Grossly aggravated circumstances harm your case and increase your penalties.
- Prior DWI conviction within the past seven years.
- Prior conviction for DWI happening after your current offense but before your sentencing
- Getting arrested for a DWI while driving on a prior DWI offense suspended license.
- DWI happens while in a car accident that causes serious injury or death
- DWI with a child under 18 or a person with a disability in your car.
If you’ve been charged with a DWI, consult an attorney to explore your available defenses and see if any mitigating circumstances can help strengthen your defense plan.
DWI Penalty Levels in North Carolina
In NC, DWI penalties go from Level five up to aggravated Level one. With a Level 5 penalty, spending no time in jail and performing community service is possible. However, as an aggravated Level one, you likely will spend significant time in prison.
Punishable by a fine up to $200, a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours, and a maximum of 60 days. A judge can suspend the sentence and require the driver to spend 24 hours in jail, perform 24 hours of community service or not operate a vehicle for 30 days.
Punishable by a fine up to $500, a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours, and a maximum of 120 days. A judge can suspend the sentence and require the driver to spend 48 hours in jail, perform 48 hours of community service or not operate a vehicle for 60 days.
Punishable by a fine up to $1,000, a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours, and a maximum of six months. A judge can suspend the sentence and require the driver to spend at least 72 hours in jail, perform 72 hours of community service or not operate a vehicle for 90 days.
Punishable by a fine up to $2,000, a minimum jail sentence of seven days, and a maximum of one year. A judge generally will not suspend the minimum sentence except under very narrow circumstances.
Punishable by a fine up to $4,000, a minimum jail sentence of 30 days, and a maximum of two years. A judge generally will not suspend the minimum sentence except under very narrow circumstances.
Aggravated Level I
Punishable by a fine up to $10,000, a minimum jail sentence of 12 months, and a maximum of three years. A judge generally will not suspend the minimum sentence except under very narrow circumstances. Most sentenced under this Level are not eligible for parole.
How Can a Mitigating Circumstance Help My Sentencing?
When a judge or jury looks at an offender to determine penalties, they consider any mitigating or aggravating factor before choosing the penalty level. For a DWI, the judge must consider mitigating and aggravating factors and weigh them against each other in determining a sentencing level.
NC Aggravated and Mitigating Factor Sentencing Guidelines for DWI
Level Three Penalty
- Aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors
Level Four Penalty:
- No aggravating or mitigating factors in your case
- The mitigating factors substantially counterbalance aggravating factors
Level Five Penalty:
- Mitigating factors substantially outweigh any aggravating factors
- No findings of mitigating or aggravating factors were made because you are an aider and abettor
Experienced DWI Attorneys Can Help
At Scharff Law, we understand it’s hard to make sense of the DWI penalty system. You may feel sure a mitigating factor can help your defense or feel afraid that an aggravating factor may increase your time in jail.
Whatever your worries, talk with us about your case to determine if mitigating factors can reduce your DWI sentence in the event you are convicted. We have the experience to know which mitigating factors are generally accepted and which ones will strengthen a defense plan. We also work with the DAs office to negotiate reduced sentences or penalties. Contact us today to get started on building a solid defense for your case.