North Carolina DUI Laws and Penalties 2024 – All You Need To Know

Doug Edwards

North Carolina poses strict punishments for driving under the influence, or DUI. The process of determining a sentence for a DUI is complex and depends on several factors of your offense.

How North Carolina Law Defines a DUI

In North Carolina, “under the influence” includes any impairing substance or controlled substance that impacts your ability to drive safely. When the substance is alcohol, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher is illegal. For drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL), the BAC legal limit is .04%. Those under the legal drinking age of 21 can be charged with a DUI for any level of intoxication.

Implied Consent Laws in North Carolina

When you drive a vehicle in North Carolina, you are consenting to a chemical test if you are lawfully arrested for a DUI. If a police officer has reasonable suspicion and arrests you, they can request that you take a breath, blood, or urine chemical test. Refusal to do so will result in license revocation for 12 months.

Implied consent laws only apply to chemical tests after a lawful arrest. You can refuse a field sobriety test without any adverse actions.

Factors That Impact North Carolina DUI Sentencing

North Carolina DUI laws are complex because penalties are determined by the mitigating factors, aggravating factors, and grossly aggravating factors in your case. The court must weigh each of these factors and determine what sentencing you receive.

Grossly aggravating factors are the most severe and include:

  • A DUI with a child under the age of 18, a person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18, or a physically disabled person who is unable to leave the vehicle without aid
  • An arrest while your license is revoked or you are on probation because of another DUI conviction
  • Causing serious injury to another person
  • A prior DUI within the last seven years

Aggravating factors may increase penalties for your DUI. They include:

  • Reckless and dangerous driving
  • Impaired driving that caused an accident
  • BAC was .15% or higher
  • Driving with a revoked license
  • Speeding to elude police
  • Two or more traffic violations within five years
  • One or more impaired driving offenses in the last seven years
  • Illegally passing a school bus
  • Speeding at least 30 mph over the speed limit

Mitigating factors can lessen the severity of your punishment. As the defendant, you have the burden of proving any mitigating factors. These include:

  • Slight impairment and evidence of no more than .09% BAC
  • A prior safe driving record
  • Impairment caused by a prescription drug taken at the prescribed dosage
  • Lawful driving aside from impairment
  • Voluntary submission to abuse assessment, mental health assessment, and participation in treatment

Depending on what factors are present in your case, the judge will determine what level of DUI sentencing you will receive.

North Carolina DUI Sentencing Levels

There are six levels of DUI sentencing, with Aggravated Level 1 and Level 1 being the most severe and Level 5 being the least:

  • Aggravated Level 1. This is if there are three or more gross aggravating factors in your case. Penalties include 12 to 36 months in jail and up to $10,000 in fines. In cases where probation is granted, there is still a minimum of 120 days in jail.
  • Level 1. This is the sentence if there are two gross aggravating factors present or if there was a minor passenger in the vehicle. Penalties include 30 days to 24 months in jail and up to $4,000 in fines. If probation is granted, there is a minimum of 10 days in jail.
  • Level 2. A Level 2 sentencing occurs when there is one gross aggravating factor. The penalties are seven days to 12 months in jail and fines of up to $2,000. The minimum seven-day jail sentence can be avoided with 90 days of monitored sobriety.

For Levels 3 to 5, no gross aggravating factors are present. The judge will determine whether there are more mitigating and aggravating factors or if they are equal:

  • Level 3. There are significantly more aggravating factors. This results in 72 hours to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Level 4. Mitigating factors slightly outweigh aggravating factors. Penalties are 48 hours to 120 days in jail and a maximum fine of $500.
  • Level 5. There are significantly more mitigating factors. Penalties include 24 hours to 120 days in jail and a maximum fine of $200.

If the judge suspends the minimum sentence, they will require community service hours.

FAQs About North Carolina DUI Law and Penalty

What Is the Minimum Penalty for a DUI in North Carolina?

For the lowest DUI penalty in North Carolina, there is a minimum penalty of 24 hours in jail to a maximum of 120 days. If the judge waives the sentence, then you must complete a minimum of 24 hours of community service. Penalties also include up to $200 in fines.

What Are the DUI Requirements in North Carolina?

North Carolina considers impairment of your driving from any substance, illegal or prescribed, to be driving under the influence. The legal limit blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08% or higher to be convicted of a DUI. If you are under 21, any amount of impairing substance can result in a DUI conviction.

How Likely Is Jail Time for Your First DUI in North Carolina?

This depends on the severity of the circumstances surrounding your DUI. If there were aggravating factors or gross aggravating factors present, like injury, speeding, or minors in the vehicle, penalties are more serious. If there are no aggravating factors, a minimum sentence in jail can be replaced with community service.

What to Expect After a DUI in NC?

A DUI first-offense conviction in North Carolina will result in a license revocation for a period of one year, followed by one year with an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in the vehicle. On a second offense within seven years, your license is revoked for four years, which is followed by IID installation for three years. On a third offense, your license is permanently revoked.

DUI Defense Attorneys

If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, it’s essential that you work with an experienced DUI defense attorney. An attorney can work to argue down your sentence, present mitigating factors, and advocate for your rights. Contact Edwards Law, PLLC, today for legal counsel.