DUI and DWI charges are serious allegations and should not be taken lightly when 56% of drivers involved in a serious or fatal car accident were found to be under the influence of at least one drug. If you’ve been charged with a DWI, you may think your situation is hopeless, but there are proactive steps you can take today to help seek better outcomes. Because of the complexity of North Carolina’s laws, this is best done with a qualified criminal defense lawyer on your side. Residents of the Raleigh, North Carolina area can turn to Life Law for experienced legal counsel during this difficult time.
DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and DUI (Driving Under the Influence) are often used interchangeably from one state to another, but in North Carolina, the term DWI is used. North Carolina also has fairly strict and complex DWI laws compared with the rest of the country. Like most states, you’re considered “impaired” if you have a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of over .08% (.04% for commercial motor vehicles), or over .04% if you’re under the age of 21.
North Carolina also has five levels of DWI misdemeanors, with Level 1 being the most severe and 5 being the least. It’s also worth noting that in some cases, you don’t actually have to be operating a vehicle to get a DWI. North Carolina, and many states, has what’s known as “actual physical control” laws which can result in a DWI conviction even if you weren’t physically operating the car when you were arrested. In these cases, a jury will look at a number of factors like the location of the driver and keys to determine if the driver was close enough to be able to operate the car.
All drivers in North Carolina agree to an “implied consent” law when operating any vehicle, meaning if an officer believes someone to be driving while impaired they can ask them to take a sobriety test. You can refuse a breathalyzer or blood test if arrested for a DWI, but if you do, it results in an immediate 30-day revocation of your driver’s license and an automatic one-year revocation. The additional year revocation stays in place even if you aren't convicted.
The penalties for receiving a DWI depend on the level of misdemeanor and whether or not you are a repeat offender. If this is the first offense and deemed a level 5 misdemeanor, you’ll spend a minimum of 24 hours in jail and may have to pay a small fine, serve 24 hours of community service, or be restricted from operating a vehicle for 30 days. Level 1 misdemeanors (reserved for repeat offenders) can carry fines of up to $4,000 and jail sentences of 30 days to two years. Penalties continue to grow more severe if the driver was operating a commercial motor vehicle, if there was a minor under the age of 16 in the car, or if the driver has more than three previous DWI convictions.
In some cases, a judge will order the convicted driver to install an ignition interlock system in their car so they can resume limited driving. This is a system that requires the driver to breathe into the equipment to check their BAC level in order to start the car. If the breathalyzer registers an unacceptable level of alcohol, the car will not start. This program is used for second DWI offenders as well as first-time offenders whose initial BAC level was above .15%.
If you’ve recently been charged with a DWI and want to know more about your rights, contact us at Life Law today. We help people all over the Raleigh, North Carolina area including Charlotte, Asheville, and Wilmington. A drunk driving charge doesn’t have to mean an end to your life. There are steps you can take to reduce the impact of a conviction and we can help you get there.