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By Matthew C. Lewis, Attorney at Law

Driving While Impaired (DWI) is a serious offense in North Carolina. The impairment may come from drinking alcohol, being under the influence of illegal drugs, or even from the side effects of legally prescribed medications. DWI laws apply to those driving a car, truck, motorcycle, scooter, boat, or even a bicycle on a public street, highway, or even a parking lot.

DWI Limits

Under the current laws, you are considered “impaired” when either: (a) you have a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher or (b) your mental and/or physical faculties have become appreciably impaired (in other words, noticeably weakened, reduced, or worsened) by your use or consumption of an impairing substance. Additionally, the presence of any illegal drugs in a blood test is considered admissible, and highly persuasive, evidence of impairment in a DWI prosecution. Commercial drivers, bus drivers, and those under the age of 21 are held to even stricter standards for impairment, with the state’s zero-tolerance policy toward any form of impairment amongst such drivers.

DWI Levels and Punishments

North Carolina has a graduated DWI scale, depending on the nature of the offense and your personal driving history. Penalties are well-defined and increase in severity for repeat offenders or when other statutorily defined aggravating and grossly aggravating factors are present. In many cases, the sentencing guidelines for DWIs leave judges with limited leeway to impose lesser sentences. A Level V DWI is the least severe, but can still result in a fine, a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours, a requirement to complete community service, a requirement to complete a substance abuse assessment and treatment, and a requirement that you seek a driving privilege to operate a motor vehicle. A Level A1 DWI is the most severe. Repeat offenders, those driving with revoked licenses, individuals driving while impaired with minors in the car, and those who cause a crash resulting in serious bodily injury may find themselves charged at this higher level. Level A1 penalties include jail terms that range from a minimum of 120 days all the way up to a maximum of 36 months (3 years). Additional penalties for A1 DWIs include stiff fines and the revocation of your driver’s license with no ability to seek a limited driving privilege. If a person dies as the result of your actions, you may even be charged with a felony: vehicular homicide.

Repeat offenders with three or more convictions in the past seven years face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of one year, must complete a substance misuse program, and may have their driver’s license permanently revoked. A repeat offender who kills someone while driving impaired may be charged with aggravated felony death by vehicle, a charge that carries even harsher penalties.

Additional DWI Penalties

In addition to the loss of driving privileges, jail time, community service, fines, and other potential penalties you may face for a DWI conviction, repeat offenders may also forfeit their vehicles. The vehicle is seized by law enforcement at the time of arrest, and, upon conviction, the judge may order the vehicle sold, with the proceeds given to the local school board. This can be especially painful for those who still have a loan that is secured by the vehicle and must continue to repay the bank even though they no longer own the car or truck.

There are rules that permit some individuals convicted of DWI to get their driver’s license back. However, such individuals may see stiff increases in their insurance premiums for years to come.

Do I Need an Attorney?

North Carolina has one of the strictest sets of DWI laws in the US. As such, I strongly recommend you never consume alcohol or drugs and operate a vehicle of any kind. Always assign a designated driver or call a cab or rideshare.

If you have been arrested for DWI, it is in your best interests to speak with an attorney familiar with traffic and DWI laws in the state. Contact Brinkley Walser Stoner today to speak with an attorney.