North Carolina DUI Laws

Arrested for DWI in North Carolina? Know What’s Ahead

If you have been arrested for drunk driving in North Carolina, you are facing serious criminal penalties. In these difficult times, you more than likely have many questions about the law and how your case will proceed.Β  Anyone who drives on any North Carolina street, highway or vehicular area has given their implied consent to submit to blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing if they are under suspicion for drunk driving. Failure to comply with North Carolina’s implied consent laws can result in a separate charge for breath test refusal β€” in addition to DWI charges.

New DUI Laws

The driving under the influence laws for the state of North Carolina have recently changed. Amendments have been included where other rules used to apply and where no rules previously existed. A new law increased the requirement for ignition interlock devices to ensure that an individual not only has an alcohol-detecting device in his or her personal motor vehicle but also all in those that are registered in his or her name.

Under the North Carolina drunk driving statutes, you can be charged with DWI (driving while intoxicated) for operating any vehicle (car, truck, bicycle, moped, etc.) on any highway, street or public vehicular area when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at or above the .08 legal limit or while you are under the influence of an impairing substance such as alcohol or drugs (meaning you can be arrested for drunk driving even if you were not over the legal limit).

Open container laws were also increased to disallow individuals in a motor vehicle from having any kind of open container of alcohol in a public area. A new law now states that those who have had previous convictions of a driving while intoxicated offense and have had a driver’s license reinstated will be arrested if having a blood alcohol content level above 0.04 percent. This percent diminishes to 0.00 percent if an individual has had a second driving while intoxicated conviction and a driver’s license reinstatement.

The final new driving under the influence law for North Carolina includes requiring an ignition interlock device installed in an individual’s vehicle before his or her driver’s license may be reinstated after being arrested for a blood alcohol content that exceeds 0.16 percent.

DUI Punishments

Punishments for driving under the influence can include imprisonment, driver’s license suspension, ignition interlocking device installation, community service, fines, motor vehicle seizure, and mandatory alcohol abuse treatment. Upon drunk driving suspicion, an individual will be asked to submit to a chemical test. By law when an individual acquires a driver’s license he or she gives implied consent to submit to requested testing. If he or she refuses to take a blood alcohol content, breath test, or urine test, he or she will automatically have his or her driver’s license suspended, despite innocence.

Upon charging a judge will take into account the test refusal and will assume that the individual is guilty of the offense. How an individual is charged depends on his or her impairment while driving or his or her blood alcohol content level. Both of these charges fall under the driving under the influence category but come with slightly different punishments.

North Carolina DWI Penalties

If convicted for drunk driving in North Carolina, you could face the following DWI penalties (depending upon the presence of certain aggravating and/or mitigating factors):

  • Level one: Fine β€” up to $4,000; Jail time β€” 30 days up to 24 months; License suspension; Substance abuse assessment or treatment required to restore driver’s license
  • Level two: Fine β€” up to $2,000; Jail time β€” 7 days up to 12 months; License suspension; Substance abuse assessment or treatment required to restore driver’s license
  • Level three: Fine β€” up to $1,000; Jail time β€” 72 hours up to 6 months; License suspension; A judge can suspend the minimum sentence only after the defendant serves at least 72 hours in jail or completes 72 community service hours
  • Level four: Fine β€” up to $500; Jail time β€” 48 hours up to 120 days; License suspension; A judge can suspend the minimum sentence only after the defendant serves at least 48 hours in jail or completes 48 community service hours;
  • Level five: Fine β€” up to $200; Jail time β€” 24 hours up to 60 days; License suspension; A judge can suspend the minimum sentence only after the defendant serves at least 24 hours in jail or completes 24 community service hours

Drivers sentenced under level three, four or five may receive limited driving privileges; however, it is essential to have an experienced lawyer by your side when these driving privileges are considered by the court.

Limited Driving Privileges

A suspended license can be a significant inconvenience. If your license was suspended or revoked as a result of a DWI/DUI conviction or breath test refusal, you may be eligible for limited driving privileges.

When you are arrested for drunk driving or for refusing the breathalyzer, your driver’s license will be automatically suspended for 30 days, a process known as “civil revocation.” 10 days after the arrest, you may become eligible for limited driving privileges for the remaining 20 days of the revocation period. In addition, the court may also grant first time offenders post-conviction limited driving privileges of up to 1 year (the length of the mandatory license suspension).

In order to be eligible for any limited driving privileges, you must have:

  • No prior DWI convictions
  • A valid license at the time of the arrest
  • Proof of insurance
  • Submitted to substance abuse/alcohol assessment
  • Paid an application fee
  • Been punished under level three, four or five

Any limited driving privileges granted will have specific provisions regarding both time and purpose. For example, you will only be allowed to drive to and from work, school, medical appointments and other express locations during certain hours.

Note: People charged with multiple DWIs or habitual DWI are not eligible for limited driving privileges. In addition, if you are subsequently convicted for drunk driving after the temporary license is issued, the temporary license will be revoked.

You Have a Right to a DMV Hearing

You have a right to a DWI/DUI refusal hearing before the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) prior to start of the one year license suspension. This hearing provides an opportunity to challenge the alleged refusal and restore your driving privileges.

  • Were you properly notified of your rights?
  • Were you properly notified of the penalties for refusal?
  • Were you provided false information regarding how the evidence would be used?
  • Were you provided false information regarding the presumption of guilt?
  • Did you willfully refuse chemical testing?

Habitual Impaired Driving: Four or More DWI Convictions

North Carolina imposes extremely severe penalties on habitual offenders. If you have been arrested for your fourth DWI in the last seven years, you will be facing a felony DWI charge for habitual impaired driving. Conviction for habitual impaired driving can result in:

  • Mandatory one year prison sentence
  • Permanent license revocation
  • Ineligibility for appeal of conviction
  • Mandatory substance abuse treatment
  • Vehicle forfeiture
  • Other criminal penalties

Harsh Penalties for Other Repeat DWI Offenders

Judges consider many aggravating and mitigating factors when determining DWI sentencing. However, repeat offenses within 10 years generally result in very serious penalties, regardless of the circumstances.

  • Second offense (within three years): Punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, up to 24 months of imprisonment and a 4 year license suspension. License reinstatement is possible after 2 years and the completion of certain conditions.
  • Third offense (within 10 years): Three DWI convictions within 10 years (two of the three convictions within the last five years) is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, up to 24 months of imprisonment and a permanent license revocation. You may request a hearing to reinstate your license after five years.

Understanding How DWI Sentences are Determined

North Carolina imposes five levels of DWI sentences or “punishments.” The level of punishment handed down by the judge depends upon the presence of any aggravating or mitigating factors in your case.

  • Aggravating factors: The following are examples of factors that will cause you to face a more severe penalty in your DWI case β€” BAC of .16 or higher (high BAC), reckless driving, prior DWI convictions, DWI accident, conviction for speeding 30 mph over the posted limit, driving with a revoked license and other factors
  • Mitigating factors: The following are examples of mitigating factors that may reduce the level of punishment in your DWI case β€” BAC that does not exceed .09 (low BAC), safe driving record, voluntary alcohol treatment and other factors.

Aggravated Circumstances

Punishments for driving under the influence offenses can vary and depend on the number of previous offenses as well as any aggravating circumstances. Aggravating circumstances often include having a minor in the motor vehicle upon arrest, driving over the speed limit, having a blood alcohol content level that is double the legal limit of 0.08 percent, causing another individual injury, and cause another individual death.

An offense that may otherwise include losing a driver’s license and a fine can be increased to incarceration, community service, and other punishments if circumstances allow. In some cases an individual may lose access to his or her motor vehicle and it may be impounded. North Carolina law states that if an individual who is not a North Carolina citizen is arrested for driving under the influence, he or she can lose his or her vehicle if the driver’s license has been revoked for similar circumstances.

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