In 2011, then-Governor Beverly Perdue signed House Bill 49, better known as “Laura's Law.” The legislation was named after 17-year-old Laura Fortenberry, who was killed in July 2010 when her vehicle was struck head on by a drunk driver who had three previous driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions.
Laura’s Law not only increased fines and punishments for repeat DWI offenders, but it also instituted harsher penalties for alleged offenders accused of driving impaired with a child in the vehicle. Under the new law, people charged with having a minor child in their automobiles at the time of their offenses automatically face Level One punishments.
Was one or more of your passengers a child when you were arrested in North Carolina for DWI? You should immediately seek legal counsel in order to avoid or at least mitigate the most costly and damaging consequences.
Our Wake County DWI attorneys at Coolidge Law Firm aggressively defend clients all over Raleigh and surrounding areas, including Wake Forest, Garner, Holly Springs, Morrisville, Fuquay-Varina, Cary, Apex, and. Call (919) 239-8448 today to set up a free initial consultation that will allow our firm to review your case and discuss your legal options. We do NOT simply plead our clients guilty to DWI charges. We explore every possible defense and aggressively fight for our clients at trial.
Before 2011, a person could face aggravated DWI charges if he was driving with a child under 16 years of age in the car. If no other aggravating factors existed, the alleged offender would face a Level Two punishment.
Under the new law, driving while impaired with a child passenger qualifies as a grossly aggravating factor that automatically triggers the second strongest level of sentencing, a Level One punishment. Furthermore, North Carolina General Statute § 20-179(c)(4) establishes three types of passengers that may lead to this punishment:
Prosecutors take these charges extremely seriously because they know that judges and juries are likely to view alleged offenders as having recklessly endangered the lives of innocent children.
While the grossly aggravating factor of impaired driving with a child under the age of 18 years, a person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years, or a person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle constitutes a Level One punishment in North Carolina, this level punishment is normally imposed when there are two grossly aggravating factors. Other grossly aggravating factors include the following types of prior impaired driving convictions:
Each prior conviction is treated as a separate grossly aggravating factor. Additional grossly aggravating factors include:
If there are three or more grossly aggravating factors, then the alleged offender faces an Aggravated Level One punishment.
The consequences of a conviction in these cases can be quite severe. A person who is convicted of impaired driving with a child under the age of 18 years, a person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years, or a person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle will be sentenced to one of the two following forms of punishment:
State law does allow for some departure from these penalties in certain cases. Under North Carolina General Statute § 20-179(g), a judge can reduce the minimum term of imprisonment for a Level One Punishment to a minimum of 10 days so long as a condition of special probation is that the alleged offender abstain from alcohol consumption and be monitored by a continuous alcohol monitoring system for not less than 120 days. The judge will also impose a requirement that the alleged offender obtain a substance abuse assessment and the education or treatment required for the restoration of a driver’s license and as a condition of probation.
In an Aggravated Level One punishment case, General Statute § 20-179(f3) states that a term of imprisonment can be suspended only if a condition of special probation is imposed to require the alleged offender to serve a minimum term of imprisonment of 120 days. If the alleged offender is placed on probation, the judge will also require the alleged offender to abstain from alcohol consumption for a minimum of 120 days as verified by a continuous alcohol monitoring system and obtain a substance abuse assessment and the education or treatment required for the restoration of a driver’s license and as a condition of probation.
North Carolina General Assembly | Session Law 2011-191 | House Bill 49 — This is the bill that became known as Laura’s Law and was approved on June 23, 2011. You can read the full text of the entire bill and see all of the changes that it made to existing legislation, including North Carolina General Statute § 20-179, North Carolina General Statute § 20-17.8, and North Carolina General Statute § 7A-304(a).
North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Initiatives — This section of the NCDOT website is dedicated to information about various initiatives of the Governor's Highway Safety Program. You can learn more about the "Booze It & Lose It" campaign, the "Click It or Ticket" program, BikeSafe North Carolina, child passenger safety, and more. There are factsheets, news, and brochures.
If you allegedly had a child or other protected class of passenger in your vehicle when you were arrested for impaired driving in North Carolina, you could be facing extremely serious penalties. You should not delay in seeking legal representation if you are facing any of these types of aggravating factors.
Coolidge Law Firm fights these kinds of charges for clients all over the Raleigh area, including students at such colleges and universities as William Peace University, Wake Technical Community College (Wake Tech), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Shaw University, North Carolina State University, Meredith College, and Duke University. You can have our Wake County criminal defense attorneys review your case by calling (919) 239-8448 right now to schedule of a free, confidential consultation.