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DWI Penalties


Piedmont Triad Area DWI Attorney

North Carolina DWI Penalties

Driving While Impaired is a very serious charge in North Carolina. If you have been charged with DWI it is important to contact an experienced DWI attorney immediately before going to court. In North Carolina, DWI penalties are based on a wide range of factors including BAC (blood alcohol content); if there have been any prior DWI convictions; whether or not a person under the age of 16 was in the vehicle at the time of the driving; if serious injury was caused to another person due to the DWI charge. All of these factors determine what sentencing level you may be facing.

DWI in North Carolina is broken down into six sentencing levels; aggravated level one being the most serious and level five being the least. Here’s the standard break down (keep in mind there are many factors that contribute to your sentencing level and the levels below may not fully apply to your case):

Aggravated Level 1 Punishment: (effective on charges occurring after December 1, 2011)

Minimum jail time of 1 year up to 3 years*

Maximum fine of up to $10,000

Level 1 Punishment:

Minimum jail time of 30 days up to 2 years**

Maximum fine of up to $4000

Level 2 Punishment:

Minimum jail time of 7 days up to 1 year***

Maximum fine of up to $2000

Level 3 Punishment:

Minimum jail time of 72 hours up to 6 months****

Maximum fine of up to $1000

Level 4 Punishment:

Minimum jail time of 48 hours up to 120 days****

Maximum fine of up to $500

Level 5 Punishment:

Minimum jail time of 24 hours up to 60 days****

Maximum fine up to $200

*Note that under Aggravated Level 1 Punishment the Judge can limit the amount of active jail time to 120 days followed by continuous alcohol monitoring for another 120 days up to probation by using a post-supervision/parole component prescribed by statute.

**Note that under Level 1 Punishment the Judge can limit the amount of active jail time to 10 days if continuous alcohol monitoring is used for 120 days; up to 60 days of pretrial monitoring may be credited against the 120 day monitoring requirement for probation.

***Note that under Level 2 Punishment the Judge can suspend all jail time if 90 days of continuous alcohol monitoring is used; up to 60 days of pretrial monitoring may be credited against the 120 day monitoring requirement for probation.

****Note that Levels 3, 4, & 5 community service may be substituted for jail time

To determine your sentencing level, North Carolina uses a series of Grossly Aggravating Factors, Aggravating Factors, and Mitigating Factors.

Grossly Aggravating Factors (as taken from North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 20-179(c)):

  1. A prior conviction for an offense involving impaired driving if:
    1. The conviction occurred within seven years before the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced; or
    2. The conviction occurs after the date of the offense for which the defendant is presently being sentenced, but prior to or contemporaneously with the present sentencing; or
    3. 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 pursuant to G.S. 20‑38.7.
      Each prior conviction is a separate grossly aggravating factor.
  2. Driving by the defendant at the time of the offense while his driver’s license was revoked under G.S. 20‑28, and the revocation was an impaired driving revocation under G.S. 20‑28.2(a).
  3. Serious injury to another person caused by the defendant’s impaired driving at the time of the offense.
  4. Driving by the defendant while (i) a child under the age of 18 years, (ii) a person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years, or (iii) a person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle was in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

If three or more of the above Grossly Aggravating Factors apply to your case, you will be sentenced at Aggravated Level 1.

If two or more of the above Grossly Aggravating Factors apply to your case, you will be sentenced at Level 1; if only one of the above Grossly Aggravating Factors apply to your case, you will be sentenced at Level 2 unless that Grossly Aggravating Factor is Driving by the defendant while (i) a child under the age of 18 years, (ii) a person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years, or (iii) a person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle was in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

Sentencing Levels 3, 4, & 5 are determined by weighing the Aggravating Factors against the Mitigating Factors.

Aggravating Factors (as taken from North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 20-179(d)):

Aggravating Factors to Be Weighed. – The judge, or the jury in superior court, shall determine before sentencing under subsection (f) whether any of the aggravating factors listed below apply to the defendant. The judge shall weigh the seriousness of each aggravating factor in the light of the particular circumstances of the case. The factors are:

  1. Gross impairment of the defendant’s faculties while driving or an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more within a relevant time after the driving. For purposes of this subdivision, the results of a chemical analysis presented at trial or sentencing shall be sufficient to prove the person’s alcohol concentration, shall be conclusive, and shall not be subject to modification by any party, with or without approval by the court.
  2. Especially reckless or dangerous driving.
  3. Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.
  4. Driving by the defendant while his driver’s license was revoked.
  5. Two or more prior convictions of a motor vehicle offense not involving impaired driving for which at least three points are assigned under G.S. 20‑16 or for which the convicted person’s license is subject to revocation, if the convictions occurred within five years of the date of the offense for which the defendant is 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 the defendant is being sentenced.
  6. Conviction under G.S. 20‑141.5 of speeding by the defendant while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension.
  7. Conviction under G.S. 20‑141 of speeding by the defendant by at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit.
  8. Passing a stopped school bus in violation of G.S. 20‑217.
  9. Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

Except for the factor in subdivision (5) the conduct constituting the aggravating factor shall occur during the same transaction or occurrence as the impaired driving offense.

Mitigating Factors (as taken from North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 20-179(e):

Mitigating Factors to Be Weighed. – The judge shall also determine before sentencing under subsection (f) whether any of the mitigating factors listed below apply to the defendant. The judge shall weigh the degree of mitigation of each factor in light of the particular circumstances of the case. The factors are:

  1. Slight impairment of the defendant’s faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and an alcohol concentration that did not exceed 0.09 at any relevant time after the driving.
  2. Slight impairment of the defendant’s faculties, resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analysis having been available to the defendant.
  3. Driving at the time of the offense that was safe and lawful except for the impairment of the defendant’s faculties.
  4. A safe driving record, with the defendant’s having no conviction for any motor vehicle offense for which at least four points are assigned under G.S. 20‑16 or for which the person’s license is subject to revocation within five years of the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced.
  5. Impairment of the defendant’s faculties caused primarily by a lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition, and the amount of the drug taken was within the prescribed dosage.
  6. The defendant’s voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment after he was charged with the impaired driving offense for which he is being sentenced, and if recommended by the facility, his voluntary participation in the recommended treatment.
    1. 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. The continuous alcohol monitoring system shall be of a type approved by the Department of Correction.
  7. Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.
    Except for the factors in subdivisions (4), (6), (6a), and (7), the conduct constituting the mitigating factor shall occur during the same transaction or occurrence as the impaired driving offense.

If the Aggravating Factors substantially outweigh the Mitigating Factors, Level 3 Sentencing is imposed. If the Aggravating Factors and Mitigating Factors counterbalance one other or, if there are no Aggravating Factors or Mitigating Factors, Level 4 Sentencing is imposed. If the Mitigating Factors outweigh the Aggravating Factors, Level 5 Sentencing is imposed.

DWI Lawyer in Winston-Salem, Attorney J. Scott Smith

Any level of DWI charge is serious; when facing these charges the first thing you should do is immediately call an experienced Winston-Salem DWI lawyer. At LAW SMITH we will treat your case with the respect it deserves and work diligently to leave no rock unturned as we fight for your defense. The State has all of the resources at their disposal including the police and a conviction hungry prosecutor. At LAW SMITH, we have the experience, reputation, and most important, the Constitution.

CONTACT WINSTON-SALEM DWI ATTORNEY J. SCOTT SMITH AT LAW SMITH FOR HELP WITH YOUR DWI ARREST. WE FIGHT.