Winston-Salem DWI Lawyer

Winston-Salem DWI Defense Attorney

A conviction for driving under the influence (DWI) or driving while impaired (DWI) could result in hundreds in fines, jail time, probation, and the loss of your driver’s license. Long-term consequences are also possible, from financial losses to having a criminal record. The most effective way to prevent these consequences is to avoid conviction, which is much more likely with the help of a Winston Salem DWI lawyer.

Just because you are arrested and charged with a DWI does not mean that a conviction is automatic or even that you are guilty. However, if you face DWI charges without a skilled attorney, a conviction is more likely, and you may face more severe penalties.

This is why legal representation is so important in any criminal case, including a DWI. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a DWI, you need dedicated and experienced legal counsel to support you. An attorney may be able to limit the severity of your charges or even have them dropped.

DWI Defense in Winston-Salem From LAWSMITH, The Law Offices of J. Scott Smith, PLLC

Facing any criminal charge is incredibly stressful and overwhelming, regardless of whether you have navigated the criminal justice system before. You do not have to handle proceedings by yourself. The attorneys at LAWSMITH, The Law Offices of J. Scott Smith, PLLC, can support you, help you understand your options, and craft your defense.

We know how much these charges can affect your life, and we do not take DWI charges lightly. Our team works hard to limit the consequences of a DWI by arguing for a lesser sentence, determining if all evidence was legally obtained, challenging information gained at the stop, and attempting to prevent conviction.

Our team has several years of collective legal experience, mostly focused on criminal defense. We understand the complexities of DWI and DUI defense and work with you to determine the right defense for your unique case. Our team is passionate about fighting for your rights and your future.

When Can I Be Charged With a DWI?

A DWI in North Carolina is the crime of operating a vehicle while impaired on any highway, street, or public location for vehicles. Impairment in North Carolina is defined as:

  1. Being influenced by an impairing substance
  2. Having consumed alcohol to the point of having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher, which can be proven by chemical analysis.
  3. Having any level of Schedule I controlled substance or metabolites present in a blood or urine chemical test.

Based on this definition of impairment, you do not have to have a BAC of .08% or higher to be arrested or convicted of a DWI. If your driving is deemed to be influenced by impairment, you could still be charged with a DWI. Impairment may be determined by a law enforcement officer at the stop through field sobriety tests.

Some drivers have different legal limits. Drivers of commercial vehicles with a commercial license have a BAC limit of .04%, in addition to evidence of impairment. Underage drivers can be charged with a DWI for having any amount of a controlled substance in their body, except in certain circumstances.

Implied Consent Law in North Carolina

North Carolina’s implied consent laws mean that all drivers on the road have given implied consent to a breath test or other chemical test. Refusing this test can result in immediate license revocation. Completion of this chemical test is in your interests, as if you submit to it, you can also rebut it as evidence in the case.

However, this implied consent law does not apply to all tests after being pulled over. Field sobriety tests and preliminary, roadside breathalyzers are not mandatory. Field sobriety tests include tests of your eyes, cognitive abilities, and balance. An officer may ask you to complete them if they have reason to believe you are impaired.

The results of these tests can be submitted as evidence, but many factors could cause you to perform badly, including medical conditions, nerves, or environmental factors. The law enforcement officer can also administer the tests incorrectly or unfairly. Preliminary breathalyzer tests can be administered incorrectly or be impacted by medication or other substances.

You do not have to submit to these tests and can refuse without fear of legal penalty. If you submitted to these tests during your arrest, your defense attorney can review them to determine if they were inaccurate or done incorrectly.

Penalties in DWI Sentencing in Winston-Salem, NC

The penalties for a DWI in North Carolina are different based on the level that is assigned to a particular case. The level is based on several aggravating, grossly aggravating, and mitigating factors present in each unique case. These include issues such as low or high BAC readings, whether an accident resulted from negligent and impaired driving, and prior DWI and other driving convictions.

The court will weigh many factors about an individual case and determine one of the following levels for sentencing:

  • Level V

This is the lowest level of sentencing for DWIs. Conviction of this level results in fines of up to $200 and from 24 hours to 60 days in jail. The judge on the case can choose to suspend the entire jail sentence in favor of probation as long as certain conditions are met. The individual must either spend a minimum of 24 hours in jail, or perform 24 hours minimum of community service.

  • Level IV

When someone is convicted of a level IV DWI charge, penalties include fines of up to $500 and from 48 hours to 120 days in jail. The jail sentence can be suspended for probation as long as the minimum sentence is served, or is replaced with 48 hours of community service.

  • Level III

Conviction of a level III DWI results in fines of up to $1,000 and from 72 hours to six months served in jail. The rest of the sentence can be suspended as long as a minimum of 72 hours are served or the individual completes 72 hours of community service.

  • Level II

A level II conviction results in fines of up to $2,000 and from seven days to one year served in jail. The minimum sentence of seven days cannot be suspended however, this time may be spent in an approved inpatient substance abuse treatment facility. If probation is allowed for part of the sentence, it may require alcohol monitoring systems or substance abuse treatment.

  • Level I

A level I conviction is one of the highest and most severe sentencing options. Penalties include fines of up to $4,000 and from 30 days to two years spent in jail. The minimum sentence cannot be suspended, however this time may be spent in an approved inpatient substance abuse treatment facility. Probation after the minimum of 30 days may have requirements such as an alcohol monitoring system, as well as substance abuse assessment and treatment.

  • Aggravated Level I

An aggravated level I conviction is the most severe sentencing option available. Penalties for this sentence include fines of up to $10,000 and from 12 months to 36 months of imprisonment. A sentenced individual must serve a minimum of 120 days of this sentence, even if part of it is suspended, however, this time may be spent in an approved inpatient substance abuse treatment facility. Probation may require several elements, such as assessment, treatment, and monitoring.

  • Habitual DWI

A habitual DWI charge is applied when an individual facing a DWI charge has three or more prior DWI convictions in the past ten years before the date of the current incident. This is charged as a Class F felony. The mandatory minimum sentence of 12 months can’t be suspended. Conviction also results in permanent license revocation and the forfeiture of the vehicle operated in the offense. If the vehicle is someone else’s, there are certain circumstances that will prevent the car’s forfeiture.

Collateral Consequences of a DWI Conviction

Depending on the severity of the DWI offense and the number of prior convictions, you could have your license suspended or revoked for months to years. This is an administrative penalty that can have many other collateral consequences.

In some cases, those convicted of DWIs can apply for a limited license. This can help drivers get to school, work, and other necessary or court-ordered locations. It’s important that you have a legal advocate to argue for why you need a limited license. This limited license does not grant full driving privileges, so the inability to drive beyond necessity can still be frustrating.

A DWI conviction also results in a criminal record, which has its own set of collateral consequences. These can include:

  • Losing your job and having a hard time finding employment
  • Negatively impacting custody and visitation agreements
  • Higher insurance premiums
  • Limiting your housing opportunities
  • Preventing you from seeking certain educational opportunities

These collateral consequences can affect you for the rest of your life, and your record is viewable by anyone who requests a background check.

How Does a DWI Attorney in Winston-Salem Help Me?

You are more likely to avoid conviction or receive a lesser sentence with the help and support of a knowledgeable DWI defense attorney. DWI attorneys know the law and how to determine whether your rights were respected. They can help you navigate the criminal court system more effectively. You have the right to legal counsel when charged with a crime, and you need to take advantage of that right to protect your interests and future.

A DWI attorney can review the circumstances of the officer pulling you over and your arrest to determine if they followed the law during the process. If they did not, your attorney can hold them accountable, and evidence obtained at the scene may be dismissed. This may also result in the dismissal of the case in certain cases.

There may be other options for your defense, depending on the circumstances in your case, and you are likely to overlook them during stressful proceedings. An attorney has experience in reviewing DWI cases and determining the right defense.

Factors That Influence the Sentencing of a DWI

The court looks at several aspects about a particular DWI case when determining the sentencing level for the offense. In most DWI cases, an AI, I, or II level conviction means an individual had one or multiple prior DWIs. However, these offenses can also apply to first offenses if aggravating circumstances are severe enough.

First, the court determines if there are grossly aggravating factors present. Some of these factors include:

  1. A prior DWI conviction alongside this offense or within the seven years prior
  2. Driving on a revoked license that was revoked because of a DWI
  3. Causing serious injury to another person
  4. Driving impaired with a minor under 18, a person with the mental development of a person under 18, or someone who was unable to leave the vehicle unaided.

Three or more aggravating factors result in an aggravated level I sentence. A level I sentence is applied if there are two or more aggravating factors or if there was a minor or vulnerable person in the car.

Aggravating Factors

After reviewing the case for grossly aggravating factors, the court will look for aggravating factors. These may include:

  • Having a BAC of .15% or higher
  • Driving recklessly or dangerously
  • Negligent driving, which causes a reportable accident
  • Driving on a revoked license
  • One or more prior DWI convictions in the last seven years
  • Two or more prior driving convictions in the last five years, which either had a penalty of at least three points or resulted in license revocation
  • Conviction of speeding to avoid apprehension
  • Conviction of speeding 30 miles per hour or more above the speed limit
  • Violation of passing a stopped school bus
  • Any other relevant aggravating factors

All aggravating factors except those referring to prior convictions must be present in the offense the individual is currently being charged for.

Mitigating Factors

The court will also consider mitigating factors. These include:

  • Having a BAC of .09% or less
  • Safe and legal driving other than being impaired
  • Slight impairment from alcohol and no chemical analysis available
  • No prior convictions that would result in at least four points on a driving record
  • Impairment caused by the use of a prescription drug for an existing condition and in reasonable amounts
  • Voluntary submission to a mental health facility
  • Other relevant mitigating factors

The sentencing level will be determined by weighing the number and severity of all these mitigating and aggravating factors.


Q: How Much Does a DWI Lawyer Cost in North Carolina?

A: The cost of a DWI lawyer in North Carolina may vary, although it will likely be higher for more serious charges. The more skilled and experienced an attorney is, the more likely their fees will be higher. However, this experience may also mean the case is resolved faster and results in a better outcome. The costs of a DWI attorney may also be higher for more complex charges.

Q: What Is the Statute of Limitations on a DWI in North Carolina?

A: If the DWI is a misdemeanor, it has a statute of limitations of two years in North Carolina. If the individual has several prior DWI charges or if there were other aggravating factors, it may be a felony. In North Carolina, felonies do not have a statute of limitations. A criminal statute of limitations refers to the amount of time a prosecutor has to file official charges against a defendant.

Q: What Is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in North Carolina?

A: There is no difference between a DUI (driving under the influence) and a DWI (driving while intoxicated) in North Carolina. In the state, the crime of operating a vehicle while impaired is typically referred to as a DWI.

The term DUI can also be used to refer to the same crime. Other states may refer to this offense primarily as a DUI, while others use DWI and DUI to refer to separate offenses. Although North Carolina uses the term DWI, the offense still recognizes impairment that is not caused by alcohol.

Q: Is a DWI a Misdemeanor in North Carolina?

A: A DWI is often a misdemeanor in North Carolina, particularly when it is a first offense with no aggravating factors. A DWI may if the person qualifies for a habitual DWI charge.

Hire a DWI Attorney for Charges in Winston-Salem

When you need a dedicated, compassionate, and skilled attorney to protect you against DWI charges, LAWSMITH, The Law Offices of J. Scott Smith, PLLC, can help. The steps you take following an arrest or charge for a DWI are crucially important for your future. The sooner you find an attorney, the earlier they can begin crafting your defense.

Our team is ready to determine the right defense for your case and defend your rights. Contact us today to learn how we can support you during this difficult time.

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