DWI Punishment Levels in NC

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DWI Punishment Levels in North Carolina

If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the consequences are severe regardless of where you live in the U.S. However, the state of North Carolina has some of the harshest penalties when charged with a DWI or DUI, some of which can have an effect on both your personal and professional life.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI, it is important to know what occurs and the penalties you might be looking at. An Asheville DUI defense lawyer will help you better understand everything including the DWI punishment levels in NC and your legal options.

Call the Doug Edwards Law offices in Asheville, NC at (828) 702-8743 to get started!

Table of Contents

What Happens After You’ve Been Charged With a DWI or DUI?

If you are convicted of DUI, the judge will conduct a sentencing hearing to determine what sentencing level applies. They will determine whether you are level A1, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. Level A1 carries the most severe sentence and level 5 the least.

Your sentencing level will depend on an array of factors based on the evidence and circumstances of your case. Some factors that aggravate the offense include prior convictions for DUI, driving on a revoked license at the time of the offense, high alcohol concentrations, and having minors in the vehicle.

If you do not have any prior DWI convictions, you have a clean driving record, did not have a person under 18 years in the car, the incident did not lead to an accident, and nobody was hurt, your sentence will likely be suspension of your license for 12 months, 24 hours in jail or 24 hours of community service, mandatory alcohol assessment and treatment probation for one year, and a fine. This is usually the sentence if no grossly aggravating factors were found (discussed in detail below).

Also, it is important to note that if you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer (BAC) test when requested by the authorities results in the automatic suspension of your driver’s license for 12 months.

What Are the North Carolina Sentencing Factors?

In order to determine the level of punishment you could face for driving under the influence in North Carolina, the judge must determine whether any Mitigating Factors, Aggravating Factors, or Grossly Aggravating Factors exist. These factors are laid out by statute and are described below:

Mitigating Factors

Factors in this category have the potential to mitigate DWI punishment. If you have been convicted of DWI, the defendant bears the burden of proving that a mitigating factor exists.

Mitigating factors include

  • Slight impairment from alcohol and BAC was not more than 0.09 at any relevant time after driving.
  • A safe driving record, with no charges for traffic offenses for which at least 4 points are assigned within 5 years of the date of the arrest.
  • Driving was lawful and safe except for impairment.
  • Impairment was due to a prescribed drug for an existing condition and the amount consumed was within the prescribed dosage.
  • Voluntarily submitting to a substance abuse assessment and participating in recommended treatment.
  • Completing a substance assessment, complying with the recommendations, and maintaining 60 months of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption.
  • Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.

Aggravating Factors

Aggravating factors are circumstances that may increase punishment for DWI if you are convicted. If no grossly aggravating factors are present, the judge will weigh the degree to which any aggravating factors apply to your DWI charge.

These include:

  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving.
  • Gross impairment or a BAC of 0.15 or higher.
  • Driving with a revoked license.
  • Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.
  • Conviction of speeding to elude.
  • Two or more prior convictions of certain motor vehicle offenses within five years of the instant offense or one or more convictions of an offense involving impaired driving that occurred more than seven years before the instant offense.
  • Passing a stopped school bus.
  • Conviction of speeding at least 30 miles per hour or more over the speed limit.
  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

Grossly Aggravating Factors

Grossly Aggravating Factors are the most serious and lead to the harshest penalties. They include:

  • Driving with one of the following types of individuals in the vehicle:
    • A child under the age of 18,
    • A person with the mental development of a child under 18, or
    • A person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle.
  • Driving with a revoked license due to a impaired driving revocation.
  • Serious injury to another party as a result of impaired driving.
  • A prior DUI conviction within seven years of the date of the current offense.

What Are the DWI Sentencing Levels in North Carolina?

As mentioned earlier, sentencing levels in NC go from A1 to 5, the first having the most severe consequences and the fifth having the least severe. Here is a closer look at each.

Level A1

In cases where there are three or more grossly aggravating factors, you will be punished as an aggravated Level 1 Offender. The penalties for this can include:

  • One to three years in jail.
  • Fines of up to $10,000.

If your sentence is suspended, you will be required to serve a minimum of 120 days in jail and abstain from alcohol for a minimum of 120 days by wearing a Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) device.

Level 1

This level of punishment is imposed if:

  • The driver was accompanied by a child under 18 years of age, an individual with the mental development of a child under 18 years of age, or an individual with a disability that hampered unaided exist from the car during the occurrence of the offense, or;
  • The presence of any other two grossly aggravating factors.

Punishment may include between 30 days minimum to 24 months in jail and a fine of up to $4000.

Level 2

This punishment level is imposed if one grossly aggravating factor exists. Punishment includes between 7 days minimum to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Level 3

This punishment level is imposed where:

  • Aggravating factors significantly outweigh mitigating factors; or,
  • There’s no presence of a grossly aggravating factor.

Punishment includes jail time of between 72 hours minimum to 6 months and a fine of up to $1,000. If the judge suspends the sentence, they must order 72 hours of community service.

Level 4

This punishment level is imposed when:

  • There is no presence of mitigating or aggravating factors; or
  • Aggravating factors are substantially counterbalanced by mitigating factors.

Penalties include a fine of up to $500 and jail time between 48 hours and 120 days. If the judge suspends the sentence, they must order 48 hours of community service.

Level 5

This punishment level is imposed when the mitigating factors substantially outweigh any aggravating factors. Penalties include a maximum fine of $200 and jail time between 24 hours and 120 days. If the judge suspends the sentence, they must order 24 hours of community service.

How Can a DWI Affect My Driver’s License?

If you are convicted of a DWI, your driving license will be revoked for at least 12 months. Under certain circumstances, you may lose your license for a longer period of time. However, depending on the circumstances of your case, you can apply for a limited driving privilege to allow you to drive for work and other purposes.

Your professional license may also be at risk if you are charged with a DWI. Impaired driving can affect your eligibility for a commercial driving license in the state of North Carolina, and you may also lose your professional license due to a criminal conviction.

Can I Petition for Limited Driving Privileges in North Carolina?

Yes! However, your eligibility highly depends on the sentencing level for your driving under the influence conviction. If you receive a sentence under levels 3, 4 or 5, you may be eligible for a limited driving privilege.

If you are sentenced as an A1, 1, or 2 offender you will not be eligible for a limited driving privilege. It is important to speak with an experienced DWI attorney who can walk you through the process, and explain the qualifying conditions.

Bear in mind that limited driving privilege decisions are made by the judge. While most judges in North Carolina will grant these privileges, it is imperative to note that the final decision rests with the judge.

Questions About DWI Punishment Levels in NC? Contact Edwards Law Today!

Being convicted of a DWI or DUI in NC has the potential to change your life. You could lose certain rights, driving privileges, and even your job. As such, you don’t want to take chances. Do not talk to the police until your Asheville criminal defense lawyer is present.

Contact the team at Doug Edwards Law as soon as possible for the best legal representation. You can reach our Asheville law firm by calling (828) 702-8743.

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