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What is DWI? Facing Charges in North Carolina

In North Carolina, a DWI is defined as driving while impaired. So, if officers catch you behind the wheel of a car with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher, you can face DWI charges. You can also face charges if officers think you seem impaired and you fail sobriety tests. In this article, we will take a closer look at what constitutes a DWI in NC and its penalties.

What is a DWI in North Carolina?

Driving after drinking in North Carolina is a risky business. For many individuals, a DWI is possible with two or even fewer drinks with dinner! Often people don’t realize that they can be charged and convicted of a DWI even if their BAC is less than .08% if they appear impaired. 

If an officer stops you, you can face arrest and jail time for DWI if you’re the driver and:

  • Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is 0.08% or more (no matter what your age)
  • You are impaired by an impairing substance (even a prescription medication that was lawfully prescribed to you)
  • You possess any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance (G.S. 90-89) or its metabolites in your blood or urine.

Even if your BAC is under .08, you may still face charges for DWI if you have slurred speech or bloodshot eyes or fail sobriety tests that officers give you. You may also spend a night or more in jail for DWI if officers see you swerving or if you’re in an accident with a BAC under .08.

Can You Get a DWI While Not Driving a Vehicle?

In North Carolina, the answer is yes. You can face DWI charges if you’re in “actual physical control” of a vehicle. If you’re in the driver’s seat and have access to the and the car is on, officers can charge you with DWI.

You don’t even have to be on the road to face these charges. Officers can charge you with DWI in any public area where others drive (including public parking lots).

You can even face charges while driving a bicycle, scooter, or golf cart.

What Factors Determine Penalties for a DWI in North Carolina?

The penalties you’ll face for a DWI depend on many factors, including whether it’s your first offense and what your BAC was at the time of the arrest. 

Factors affecting the penalties you may face include:

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

Keep reading for defense strategies that may help you face lesser charges and sometimes result in the dismissal of your case!

What Are the Penalties for DWI in North Carolina?

Penalties vary depending on the factors listed above. However, generally, you can expect to face some of the following consequences if convicted of DWI in NC:

  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Probation
  • Community service
  • Driver’s license suspension or revocation
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle
  • Seizure of your vehicle
  • Other alcohol monitoring devices
  • Higher car insurance premiums

You may also be required to attend alcohol education classes or treatment programs.

Six Penalty Levels for DWI

Even the lowest Level 5 DWI can have serious consequences. The consequences for each level of misdemeanor DWI, according to North Carolina Law, include:

Level V

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.

Level IV

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.

Level III

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.

Level II

Punishable by a fine up to $2,000, a minimum jail sentence of seven days, and a maximum of one year. A judge cannot waive the minimum sentence. However, under some circumstances, it can be substituted by inpatient treatment or alcohol monitoring. 

Level I

Punishable by a fine up to $4,000, a minimum jail sentence of 30 days, and a maximum of two years. A judge cannot waive the minimum sentence, however under some circumstances, it can be reduced to 10 days.

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 CANNOT suspend the minimum sentence. Most sentenced under this Level are not eligible for parole.

In addition, you will likely face a driver’s license suspension or revocation if convicted of DWI in NC. A first offense can result in a license suspension of up to one year, while subsequent offenses can lead to a revocation of your license for longer.

Aggravating & Mitigating Factors

Aggravated factors make your penalties more severe while mitigating factors make your penalties less severe. 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 Should I Do If Facing a DWI Arrest in North Carolina?

If you are facing a DWI arrest, the best thing is to exercise your right to remain silent and immediately contact an experienced DWI attorney. An attorney can help investigate the facts of your case and identify any possible defenses that may be available to you.

An experienced attorney will also know the best defenses to use in your case. Without an attorney, no one is there to protect your interests.

Do not chat with any officers regarding your traffic stop or your behavior. Instead, invoke your right to remain silent until your attorney arrives.

Can I Refuse to Take a Breathalyzer Test?

You may call an attorney or friend to act as a witness for any breathalyzer tests. Whoever you call has 30 minutes to arrive on the scene before law enforcement may ask you to take the test without your attorney or friend present.

Calling someone to witness your testing gives an extra layer of protection to ensure that officers fairly administer your breathalyzer or other chemical tests.

How Can I Defend Myself If Facing Charges For a DWI in NC?

There are many defense strategies an excellent attorney may choose from, including: 

Knoll Motion Defense

Defense in the 1984 NC case where Mr. Knoll blew a .30. However, the judge dismissed his case because his attorney challenged the state’s actions violating his rights by keeping him in jail unnecessarily.

Ferguson Motion Defense

In NC, you have the right to a witness present when you submit to a test of your breath. It is your constitutional and statutory right for law enforcement to give you access to a witness. 

Absher Motion Defense

Get a DWI dismissed because law enforcement has destroyed or lost evidence that would have helped the court see your innocence. 

Illegal Stop

An officer can’t legally pull your vehicle over unless there’s a reason to believe you have broken a traffic or other law (“reasonable suspicion”).

Inaccurate Sobriety Test

A standard DWI defending argument is that the officer did not conduct the standardized field sobriety tests appropriately. This argument might lead the courts to reject evidence collected during a roadside stop. 

Invalid or Non-Standardized Tests

Some methods used by police to assess sobriety are not uniform or effective for detecting DWI. For that reason, a lawyer may challenge a field test. 

Improper Seizure

If an officer did not follow legal procedures during an arrest, the evidence from the traffic stop might be inadmissible. 

Misleading Officer Observations

The police officer’s personal observations and impressions of the driver during the stop are substantial incriminating proof. 

Contrary Evidence

Witnesses who were there at the time of your arrest may be able to speak on your behalf. 

With an experienced criminal DWI defense attorney on your side, you can feel confident that your best outcome is possible!

We Can Help

At Scharff Law, we understand what you are going through and work tirelessly to defend your rights. With nearly 15 years of experience, we have the knowledge and skill to provide you with the best defense possible. We are here to help.

Scharff Law has successfully defended many clients against DWI charges, resulting in not-guilty verdicts and dismissals. If officers arrest you for a DWI in North Carolina, contact us today for a free consultation! Find out how we can help you achieve your best outcome!