In North Carolina, a DWI (or driving while impaired) charge can be issued if an officer suspects that you are operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs, so long as they impair your ability to drive).
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) outlines the various severities of DWI that you can be charged with. Here’s their list of DWI convictions that a court can rule, starting with the least severe:
Level V – Punishable by a fine up to $200 and a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours and a maximum of 60 days. A judge can suspend the sentence but upon the condition that the driver 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 and a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours and a maximum of 120 days. A judge can suspend the sentence upon the condition that the driver 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 and a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours and a maximum of six months. A judge can suspend the sentence upon the condition that the driver spend 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 and a minimum jail sentence of seven days and a maximum of one year. A judge CANNOT suspend the minimum sentence.
Level I – Punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days and a maximum of two years. A judge CANNOT suspend the minimum sentence.
Level A1 – Punishable by a fine up to $10,000 and a minimum of 1 year of active incarceration, with a maximum of 3 years. A judge CANNOT suspend the minimum sentence.
In addition to the aforementioned sentences, those convicted of a DWI will be subject to a substance abuse assessment program and will be required to attend a treatment program recommended by the assessing agency.
If you are charged with a DWI, it is in your best interest to hire an attorney to attempt to mitigate or defeat the charges against you. In some cases, the level of the charge may be reduced. You may even be able to have your charges dismissed entirely, depending on the details of the arrest and the specifics of your case.
A conviction for DWI remains on your record forever. You can be convicted of “habitual” DWI if you receive multiple DWIs in a certain time frame, and sentencing will be more severe for multiple DWIs that the first infraction.
In general, driving while impaired (DWI) charges lead to misdemeanor convictions here in the state of North Carolina. That said, multiple DWI convictions can eventually lead to a DWI Felony Habitual DWI. If you’ve been convicted of three DWIs or more within a span of 10 years, you may be charged with a felony DWI. You can learn more about DWI charges in our defense services.
Only law enforcement officers can issue DWI charges. AN officer may pull you over if they observe conduct that may be due to impairment (e.g. swerving, speeding, riding the line, other reckless behavior). The officer must then have probable cause to make an arrest. At this point, the officer may request that you perform a test (intoximeter, blood or urine test) to see if you are compromised by an impaired substance at the time of driving.
While you technically have the right to refuse an evidentiary grade breathalyzer, there are consequences to doing so. A refusal will result in a mandatory suspension of your driving privilege for a period of one year. The officer may get a warrant for a blood draw, depending on the circumstances, regardless of whether a person refuses. Finally, you may still be charged if you refuse, and that refusal will be presented as evidence of guilt at your trial.
The lines are a bit grey here. In North Carolina, a “vehicle” under DWI law includes motorized vehicles that can be driven on state roads. Bicycles are considered “vehicles” under North Carolina law, since they can be ridden on state roads. Gold carts, ATVs and lawn mowers are also considered vehicles for the purpose of the DWI statute.
Yes. Underaged drinkers can be charged with a DWI, in addition to underage drinking charges. If you are facing an underage DWI, you may also be charged with a DWI.
Yes. Officers may seize your vehicle if your record shows that you have committed previous DWI infractions in the state. Your vehicle may be seized at the time of the arrest. For drivers who have had multiple DWI infractions, the state may seize your vehicle and you will forfeit ownership of the vehicle if you are convicted of a habitual DWI.
Yes. If you’ve been charged with a DWI, you may be able to expunge your record. DWI charges can be very damaging to your future and it can make it difficult to obtain employment in the future. If you need to rid your record of a DWI charge, then you can pursue an expungement.
Yes. Commercial drivers are subject to stricter laws, and different punitive measures. The NCDPS notes that “it’s unlawful for the operator of a commercial motor vehicle to drink and drive. The first offense results in a 10-day disqualification to operate a commercial motor vehicle. The second or subsequent offense revokes the driver’s license to operate any vehicle. [There is] zero tolerance for school bus and school activity bus drivers and child care vehicle drivers. It is unlawful for school bus and school activity bus drivers and child care vehicle operators (daycare van etc.) to drink and drive.”