North Carolina has enacted some of the strictest drunk driving laws in the US. They all fall under the umbrella of Driving While Impaired (DWI). Prosecutors may charge you with DWI if you are operating a vehicle and:
- You are impaired, which is a subjective determination of the police officer based upon your demeanor, appearance, or performance on field sobriety tests; OR,
- You have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher based upon the results of a chemical test.
Therefore, police can arrest you for drunk driving even if your BAC is lower than .08. If you demonstrate signs of impairment, you may face charges. Note that the BAC threshold is lower for commercial drivers (.04 percent) and individuals under the age of 21 (0.0 percent).
A DWI arrest is both administrative and criminal in nature, so there are two separate cases and two sets of penalties you face. The Civil Penalty will depend on the outcome of the criminal case. It pays to have a seasoned DWI lawyer on your side to guide you through the complex process.
1. Criminal Case
If convicted of the crime of Driving While Impaired, a judge will hold a hearing to determine whether there are circumstances that affect the details of the sentence. Aggravating circumstances – including BAC above .15 percent, having a child in the car, or reckless driving – will increase the penalties. The sentencing structure falls into different levels:
- Level V = Fine up to $200, plus a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours and maximum incarceration of 60 days;
- Level IV = Maximum fine of $500, with a minimum 48 hours in jail and maximum up to 120 days;
- Level III = Fine up to $1,000, plus a minimum incarceration of 72 hours and maximum jail time of six months;
- Level II = Maximum fine of $2,000, along with minimum jail time of seven days and maximum of a year;
- Level I = The maximum fine reaches $4,000, with jail time at a minimum sentence of 30 days and maximum of two years.
- Aggravated Level I = Maximum of $10,000 with jail time at a minimum of twelve months and a maximum of thirty-six months.
With Levels V – III, a judge may suspend the sentence upon completion of a designated number of community service hours. You may also not operate a vehicle for a certain amount of time. The court cannot issue a suspension under Level I or Level II.
2. Administrative Proceedings
Your driver’s license is the subject of punishment under the administrative component of a DWI case.
- First offense: One year driver’s license suspension;
- Second offense: Four year suspension of your driver’s license; and,
- Third offense: Your driver’s license is permanently suspended.
There are additional direct and indirect consequences that impact your life after a conviction for drunk driving in North Carolina.
- The Court may order you to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) on your vehicle when you get your license back. The IID prevents your vehicle’s engine from starting if it detects alcohol when you blow into it.
- Your car insurance rates are likely to skyrocket. Most insurers consider a person with a DWI conviction to be high-risk.
- With a DWI conviction, punishments for subsequent offenses will be more severe.
- With a DWI conviction on your record, you will be punished more severely for subsequent offenses.
- It may also affect professional licenses and other situations requiring background checks.
At Greene Crow & Smith, Our Criminal Defense Attorneys Are Dedicated to the Protection of Our Clients’ Constitutional Freedoms and Respect for Their Individual Circumstances.
We’re here to guide you through the complicated, frightening, and often frustrating process known as the criminal justice system. We provide criminal law services at all levels in eastern North Carolina, including misdemeanor and felony trial defense, and post-conviction appellate work in both state and federal court. Contact us today for a consultation regarding your case.