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What is a DWI in North Carolina?

A DWI in North Carolina refers to the use of alcohol/substances that inhibit judgment on a public road and endangers property and other road users. A DWI is a serious crime, and law enforcement work with the judiciary and the Division of Motor Vehicles to indict, prosecute, and penalize offenders. Records of the offense are mostly considered public records and are available to interested persons via official and independent service providers.

What makes a DWI in North Carolina?

A DWI is short for Driving While Impaired. Per N. C. Gen. Stat. § 20–138.1., the offense constitutes driving or operating any vehicle upon any public vehicular area while under the influence of a substance, i.e., alcohol or drug. The offense may also refer to when a preliminary breath test or chemical analysis shows an alcohol concentration greater than or equal to 0.08% in bodily fluid. Likewise, using any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or its metabolites in bodily fluids while driving shall constitute a DWI.

What Happens When You Get a DWI for the First Time in North Carolina?

Generally, a first DUI in North Carolina is a misdemeanor, but it may be a felony depending on aggravating or mitigating factors. Furthermore, the offender may incur a minimum jail time of 24 hours and a maximum jail time of 24 months. The court may also assess other penalties such as fines, community service, ignition lock, assessment test, license suspension, and revocation. The offender may also be eligible to have the trial set in a DWI treatment court instead of a criminal trial court.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DWI in North Carolina?

Not likely. If adjudicated guilty, the court generally imposes a sentence. However, the court typically suspends this sentence—if there are mitigating factors—and the court places the offender on probation. Note that violating court orders during the probation period typically will cause the invocation of the full sentence term.

What are the Typical Penalties for a DWI Conviction in North Carolina?

North Carolina uses a scale of offense to determine the combination of penalties to ascribe to persons convicted of a DWI in the state. Where an offender falls depends on aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors may include child endangerment, the level of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), negligence, and driving with a revoked license. Mitigating factors include safe driving history, existing medical conditions, and voluntary participation in a pre-trial assessment.

Generally, the levels of a DWI offense and applicable punishment are:

  • Level 5 DWI: This level applies to offenders who are guilty but with several mitigating factors. The applicable penalties include up to $200.00 in fines, up to 60 days imprisonment, 24 hours of continuous supervision, and the suspension of driving privileges for 30 days.
  • Level 4 DWI: The offender incurs up to five hundred dollars ($500.00) in fines, up to 120 days in jail, 48 hours of probation, suspension of driving privileges for 60 days. Furthermore, the offender may have to complete a substance abuse assessment, education, or treatment per N. C. Gen. Stat. § 20–17.6.
  • Level 3 DWI: The guilty offender incurs up to $1000 in fines, up to six (6) months in jail, and license revocation. The court may also impose community service of at least 72 hours and suspension of driving privileges for 90 days. Furthermore, the offender may have to complete a substance abuse assessment, education, or treatment per N. C. Gen. Stat. § 20–17.6.
  • Level 2 DWI: Here, the guilty offender incurs up to $2,000 in fines, a maximum of 12 months in jail, and license revocation. The judge may also impose any other lawful punishment at his/her discretion.
  • Level 1 DWI: This level is the gravest and typically has the grossest aggravating factors. The applicable punishment here is up to $4,000 in fines, up to 36 months imprisonment, and license revocation. The judge may also impose any other lawful penalties at his/her discretion.

Note: Habitual violators risk incurring a minimum active sentence term of at least 12 months. Also, he/she faces the possibility of a permanent revocation of license and may forfeit the vehicle. Also, note that the state has the statutory burden of proving that an aggravating factor exists, while the offender bears the statutory burden of establishing that a mitigating factor exists. Both sides must prove these factors beyond a reasonable doubt or preponderance (N. C. Gen. Stat § 20–179).

How Long Does a DWI Stay on Your Record in North Carolina?

A DWI generally stays on the criminal record of a person for seven (7) years. During this lookback period, the court generally will regard a second offense as an aggravating factor. However, North Carolina makes provisions for the expunction of a DWI in limited circumstances. Generally, this includes where the DWI charge did not result in a conviction and if the offender maintains a stellar record for at least fifteen (15) years. The driving record of offenders is available to interest persons through the Division of Motor Vehicles. Similarly, interested persons may get court records at the office of the clerk of court.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. Operating independently of any state entity, such websites may make searching simpler. Most sites also provide easy-to-use search options that can be helpful when looking for specific or many entries. To use a third-party or government website, interested parties usually need to provide some or all of the following:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or persons involved in the case. These include information such as the city, county, or state of residence or accusation.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not government-sponsored. Consequently, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How do I Find DWI Checkpoints in North Carolina?

DWI Checkpoints, where police officers set up roadblocks to screen drivers, are legal in North Carolina. Law enforcement typically set up these checkpoints on the weekends and holidays when drivers have the highest propensity to drive drunk. North Carolina DWI checkpoint must follow specific rules, and the setup must display visible flashing blue lights. Besides, interested persons can get notified of these checkpoints via online communities or a web search.

What is an Aggravated DWI in North Carolina?

Aggravated DWI in North Carolina refers to a class 1 DWI where more than three grossly aggravating factors implicate the indicted driver, such as high BAC, repeat offense, and child endangerment. The average sentence is 36 months, and the imposition of other administrative or criminal penalties is at the judge’s discretion. The convicted driver may also incur up to $10000 in fines, license revocation, and the driver must submit to 120 days of approved continuous alcohol monitoring. The monitoring system is random, and drivers bear the cost of administration.

What Happens When You Get a DWI in North Carolina?

N. C. Gen. Stat. § 20–179 details the criminal procedure for all DWI indictments in North Carolina. Generally, a sentencing hearing is required. The trial is often by a jury, but the court may waive a jury trial under certain circumstances. At the hearing, the court weighs aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the level of DWI, which invariably affects the sentencing.

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