The Tar Heel State has some of the harshest and most complicated penalties for individuals accused of driving while impaired (DWI). North Carolina has six different sentencing levels for those convicted.
Levels III, IV and V are the most common convictions, with Level V being the least serious. Level I and Level II are the most serious, while maximum penalties result from an aggravated Level I conviction.
What are the penalties?
Levels III through V convictions bring sentences ranging from 24 hours to six months in jail and a fine between $200 and $1,000. Level I and II cases can lead to sentences of seven days to three years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.
Aggravating factors for a Level I offense include having a minor in the vehicle when you are stopped, causing serious injuries to another person or having a previous DWI conviction in the past seven years.
Officers must have a good reason to pull you over
Being suspected of DWI can be a frightening experience. But remember, even if you have been drinking doesn’t mean you will be found guilty. Officers must have probable cause to stop your vehicle, meaning someone is weaving, speeding or breaking other traffic laws. They can also stop you because of a broken or malfunctioning taillight or other equipment issues or as a result of a tip from a witness. Once stopped, follow these actions:
- Pull over quickly and safely and remain in the vehicle
- Turn off your car and put your hands on the wheel
- Politely respond to the officer
- Do not answer any questions about whether you’ve been drinking, where you’ve been or who you’ve been with
What is implied consent?
If an officer suspects you’ve been drinking, he or she will likely ask you to take a field sobriety test (FST) to assess your physical state. They will also likely ask you to take a breath test. Under North Carolina’s implied consent rule, refusing to comply usually means your license will be suspended for 12 months.
Call an attorney after being arrested
If your blood alcohol content (BAC) registers 0.08% or above or you fail the FST, the officer will likely place you under arrest. Remember to exercise your Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to answer any questions until your lawyer is present. An experienced DWI defense attorney has many defenses available, such as:
- The officer did not have probable cause to stop you
- Medical or physical reasons caused you to fail the FST
- You were not informed of your rights
- The breathalyzer test was flawed or incorrectly administered by the officer
North Carolina uses the Intoxilyzer 5000 for breath tests. Numerous cases have been dismissed because of flaws or defects, devices not properly maintained or due to officer error.
A DWI conviction can create devastating, long-lasting personal, employment and financial consequences. In addition to jail time, fines and a suspended license, individuals can lose professional licenses and see their insurance rates double or triple. A knowledgeable defense lawyer understands how these cases are prosecuted and will aggressively represent you to reduce penalties or have the charges dismissed.