North Carolina DWI / DUI Penalties

If you have been arrested for driving while impaired (DWI) in Raleigh or surrounding areas in Wake County, you could face severe consequences. You need to take the charge seriously. The following is a summary of penalties for DWI and related alcohol offenses in North Carolina:

The Sentencing Hearing

If you are convicted of impaired driving under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-138.1, you are guilty of a misdemeanor. However, you will not be sentenced under our state’s structured sentencing laws. Instead, the court will sentence you according to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179 after a hearing is held to determine:

  • The presence of any grossly aggravating factors in your case,
  • The presence of aggravating and mitigating factors in your case, and
  • Based on those factors, which one of six punishment levels you fall within.

If you admit to an aggravating factor, the court will treat the factor as if it had been found by a jury. Otherwise, you have a right to a jury trial to determine the existence of the factor.

The six punishment levels are:

Aggravated Level One DWI Punishment – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179(f3)

Imposed if: Three or more grossly aggravating factors are present.

  • Fine: Up to $10,000
  • Jail: Minimum of 12 months, maximum of 36 months — with no eligibility for parole
  • Probation: Sentence may be suspended only if a condition of special probation is imposed requiring a minimum term of imprisonment of at least 120 days.
  • If probation is imposed: It must include the condition that you abstain from alcohol for at least 120 days and undergo a substance abuse assessment and related treatment or education.

Level One DWI Punishment – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179(g) 

Imposed if:  You were accompanied by a minor child (under 18) the time of the offense or any two of the other grossly aggravating factors are present.

  • Fine: Up to $4,000
  • Jail: Minimum of 30 days, maximum of 24 months
  • Probation: Sentence may be suspended only if a condition of special probation is imposed including a minimum term of imprisonment of 30 days.
  • If probation is imposed: Probation will include the requirement that you undergo a substance abuse assessment and related treatment or education.
  • Probation may include: A requirement of abstaining from alcohol, monitored by a continuous alcohol monitoring system, for anywhere between a minimum of 30 days up to the maximum of the term of probation.

Level Two DWI Punishment – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179(h)

Imposed if: No minor child (under 18) was present in the vehicle and only one other grossly aggravating factor is present.

  • Fine: Up to $2,000
  • Jail: Minimum of 7 days, maximum of 12 months
  • Probation: Sentence may be suspended only if a condition of special probation is imposed including a minimum term of imprisonment of 7 days.
  • If probation is imposed: Probation will include the requirement that you undergo a substance abuse assessment and related treatment or education.
  • Probation may include: a requirement of abstaining from alcohol, monitored by a continuous alcohol monitoring system, for anywhere between a minimum of 30 days, up to the maximum of the term of probation, along with any other lawful conditions of probation the judge should choose to impose.

Level Three DWI Punishment – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179(i)

Imposed if: No grossly aggravating factors are present and aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors. 

  • Fine: Up to $1,000
  • Jail: Minimum of 72 hours, maximum of 6 months
  • Probation:Sentence may be suspended, but the suspended sentence must include:
    • Imprisonment for at least 72 hours as a condition of special probation; or
    • Community service for at least 72 hours; or
    • Any combination of the above.
  • If probation is imposed: It will include the requirement that you undergo a substance abuse assessment and related treatment or education, along with any other lawful conditions of probation the judge should choose to impose.

Level Four DWI Punishment – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179(j)

Imposed if: No aggravating or mitigating factors are present or aggravating factors are substantially counterbalanced by any mitigating factors. 

  • Fine: Up to $500
  • Jail: Minimum of 48 hours, maximum of 120 days
  • Probation: Sentence may be suspended, but the suspended sentence must include:
    • Imprisonment for at least 48 hours as a condition of special probation; or
    • Community service for at least 48 hours; or
    • Any combination of the above.
  • If probation is imposed: It will include the requirement that you undergo a substance abuse assessment and related treatment or education, along with any other lawful conditions of probation the judge should choose to impose.

Level Five DWI Punishment – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179(k)

Imposed if: No aggravating or mitigating factors are present or mitigating factors substantially outweigh any aggravating factors.

  • Fine: Up to $200
  • Jail: Minimum of 24 hours, maximum of 120 days
  • Probation: Sentence may be suspended, but the suspended sentence must include:
    • Imprisonment for at least 24 hours as a condition of special probation; or
    • Community service for at least 24 hours; or
    • Any combination of the above.
  • If probation is imposed: It will include the requirement that you undergo a substance abuse assessment and related treatment or education, along with any other lawful conditions of probation the judge should choose to impose.

Grossly Aggravating Factors – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179(c)

The following are grossly aggravating factors:

  • A prior conviction for an offense involving impaired driving if:
    • The conviction occurred within 7 years before the date of the offense for which you are being sentenced; or
    • The conviction occurs after the date of the offense for which you are presently being sentenced but before or at the same time as the present sentencing; or
    • The conviction occurred in district court; the case was appealed to superior court; the appeal has been withdrawn, or the case has been remanded back to district court; and a new sentencing hearing has not been held yet.
  • You were driving with a child under age 18, a person with the mental development of a child under age 18 or a person with a physical disability that prevented their unaided exit from the vehicle.
  • You were driving with revoked license at the time of the offense, and it was an impaired driving revocation.
  • Your impaired driving caused serious injury to another person.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-179(d) and (e)

If the court or a jury determines there are no grossly aggravating factors in your case, the court will then weigh any aggravating and mitigating factors that are found and determine your punishment.

The possible aggravating factors are:

  • Gross impairment of your faculties while driving or an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more within a relevant time after the driving.
  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving.
  • Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.
  • Driving while your driver’s license was revoked.
  • Two or more prior convictions of a motor vehicle offense not involving impaired driving for which at least three points were assigned to your record or which subjected your license to revocation (if the convictions occurred within 5 years of the date of the offense for which you are being sentenced); or one or more prior convictions of an offense involving impaired driving that occurred more than seven years before the date of the offense for which you are being sentenced.
  • A prior conviction for speeding while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension.
  • A prior conviction for speeding by at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit.
  • Passing a stopped school bus.
  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

The possible mitigating factors are:

  • Slight impairment of your faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and an alcohol concentration that did not exceed 0.09 at any relevant time after the driving.
  • Slight impairment of your faculties, resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analysis having been available to you.
  • Driving at the time of the offense that was safe and lawful except for the impairment of your faculties.
  • A safe driving record, with no conviction for any motor vehicle offense for which at least four points were assigned under or for which your license was subject to revocation within 5 years of the date of the offense for which you are being sentenced.
  • Impairment of your faculties caused primarily by a lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition, and the amount of the drug taken was the prescribed dose.
  • Your voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment after you were charged with the offense for which you are being sentenced and, if recommended by the facility, your voluntary participation in the recommended treatment.
  • Completion of a substance abuse assessment, compliance with its recommendations, and simultaneously maintaining 60 days of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring system.
  • Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.

Even if you were suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, diminished capacity or mental disease or defect at the time of the offense, it will not be considered as a mitigating factor.

However, you can still present evidence of these matters in the sentencing hearing, and the court can use that information when deciding on the terms and conditions of your sentence after your punishment level is determined.

Habitual Impaired Driving – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-138.5 

If you have three or more prior DWI convictions (DUI, impaired driving or drunk driving) within the 10 years prior to the current offense, then you could be sentenced as a habitual impaired driver. This means you will be sentenced for a Class F felony. A minimum 12-month sentence must be imposed. You won’t be able to get a suspended sentence or probation.

Zero Tolerance – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-138.3

If you are under age 21 and caught driving with any alcohol in your system, then you are guilty of a misdemeanor. Under a recent change in North Carolina law, you face a sentence just as if you were convicted of DWI.

License Suspension and Revocation

In addition to the criminal penalties you face above, it’s important to know that upon an arrest for a North Carolina impaired driving offense, your license will be administratively revoked for at least 30 days. After 10 days, you may be eligible to request limited driving privileges.

If you are ultimately convicted of a first-time DWI, your license will be suspended for one year. You may be eligible for a restricted license that will typically allow you to drive during daytime hours Monday through Friday. However, if you are convicted for a second or subsequent DWI, your license can be suspended for a considerably longer period of time or could even be revoked.

Forfeiture of Motor Vehicle

If you or someone else is driving your car at the time of an impaired driving offense, and your license or the other person’s license was revoked as a result of a prior impaired driver’s license revocation, then your car is subject to forfeiture.

Contact Our Raleigh DWI Lawyers Today

You face serious consequences if convicted of DWI. Don’t face this charge alone. Instead, contact an attorney who has experience protecting the rights of DWI defendants in North Carolina courts. Contact The Coolidge Law Firm right away.

Our Raleigh DWI lawyers have the experience, training and skills to help you through a difficult period. We also work with one of the most respected experts in the state. We’ll protect your rights and work hard to secure the best possible result.

If you have been arrested for DWI in Raleigh, Apex, Cary, Clayton, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Holly Springs, Wake Forest, Wendell, or anywhere else in Wake County, call us today at (919) 239-8448 or (919) 605-9000 or fill out our online form.

The Coolidge Law Firm fights for YOU! 

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