North Carolina residents and visitors who drive in the state need to be aware of the serious legal implications of operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The applicable North Carolina law is called Impaired Driving. The charge is often referred to as DWI, which stands for Driving While Impaired. While the offense sometimes is referred to as “DUI” (Driving Under the Influence), the term DWI is used more frequently in our state.
A driver can be charged with DWI under the North Carolina criminal statute if he or she operates any vehicle on a highway, street, or any public vehicular area:
For drivers under age 21, North Carolina has a zero-tolerance policy: It is illegal for an under-age driver to operate a vehicle with any amount of alcohol or drugs in his or her system. If a driver is operating a commercial vehicle, the blood alcohol concentration that constitutes impaired driving is 0.04 percent or more.
Schedule I controlled substances generally include a comprehensive range of opiates, opiate derivatives, hallucinogenics, depressants, and stimulants. Even if the driver has a legal prescription for a controlled substance, driving with the drug in his or her system is prohibited. Having the prescription is not a defense to the charge.
The level of punishment for DWI depends on several factors, including:
The assessment of grossly aggravating, aggravating, and mitigating factors in a DWI case is very complex and has a direct impact on the penalties that result from a DWI conviction. Those sentencing factors include the following:
Grossly Aggravating factors:
North Carolina has six levels of sentencing for DWI:
The levels rank in decreasing order of severity from Aggravated Level One (the most serious) to Level Five (the least serious). The court determines the sentencing level following the DWI trial.
The court relies heavily on the assessment of mitigating, aggravating, and grossly aggravating factors in determining the sentencing level. For example, Level Five DWI, the least serious level, is likely to be applied when mitigating factors are present and no grossly aggravating factors are found. Level Five punishment can include a fine of up to $200 and a maximum prison term of 60 days. The judge may suspend in the sentence in Levels Three, Four, or Five if certain conditions are met.
Potential fines and prison time increase as the sentencing level increases in severity. Like Level Five, sentencing Levels Four and Three are situations that involve no grossly aggravating factors. When grossly aggravating factors exist, the sentencing level will be Aggravated Level One, Level One, or Level Two. The existence of three or more grossly aggravating factors lead to Aggravated Level One sentencing, which carries a maximum fine is $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to 36 months.
In addition to fines and prison terms, conviction of a DWI offense likely will result in some or all of the following being imposed by the court:
If you are arrested on a DWI charge in North Carolina, regardless of the circumstances, it is essential to retain an experienced DWI attorney to represent you. The DWI law is extremely complicated both in terms of how to defend against the criminal charge and regarding facts and circumstances that constitute mitigating and aggravating factors that affect the severity of sentencing.
Providing the best defense requires a North Carolina attorney who knows the DWI law and court practices relating to the charge and to sentencing. Our criminal defense attorneys at The Twiford Law Firm have substantial experience defending DWI charges arising from alcohol and drugs and are here to vigorously defend you against all DWI charges in North Carolina state courts.
In addition to state court DWI charges in North Carolina, you can be charged with a DWI offense in federal court if you drive impaired in one of our state’s federally-owned national parks and protected areas. Our attorneys handle federal DWI charges as well as state DWI charges in North Carolina.
With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, we serve clients throughout northeastern North Carolina. Contact us today at 252-338-4151 or 252-435-2811 to schedule an initial consultation.