The number of DWI arrests in North Carolina has been steadily falling since 2014.
In that year, almost 50,000 people faced charges of driving while impaired. But in the four years that followed, the number of DUI arrests decreased by nearly 20%.
Still, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t drinking and getting behind the wheel anymore. And North Carolina DUI laws remain firmly intact to keep the roads as safe as possible.
If you’re curious how NC DWI law works, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn the rules of the road in North Carolina.
North Carolina DUI Laws
In North Carolina, DUI laws apply to younger drivers. If someone under the legal drinking age of 21 has any amount of alcohol in their system while driving, they will receive a DUI charge. For reference, DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence.
Otherwise, adult drivers over the legal limit could face a DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired. The police deploy a DWI for more than just alcohol-related driving offenses, too.
A DWI could apply for those over 21 who:
- Have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% while driving a car, or 0.04% while driving a commercial vehicle
- Have opioids, benzos, or other controlled substances present in their system
- Are under the influence of another impairing substance, according to state law
NC DWI Law applies to whoever has what’s called actual physical control of a vehicle. This phrase means that the car doesn’t have to be in motion for police to hand over a DWI.
In the past, NC courts have found drivers to be in actual physical control of a vehicle in a myriad of unusual circumstances. For instance, an impaired passenger jumped into the driver’s seat of a car while it was pulled over. He did so to turn on the heat, but, because of his position in the vehicle, police determined he had actual physical control while impaired.
Aggravating Factors of a DWI
Not all DWIs deal with impaired driving alone. Instead, some defendants face an extended list of charges for other unsafe choices they made while on the road. On the other hand, mitigating factors can sometimes encourage leniency from the courts.
Gross aggravating factors cover any other major offenses made while driving impaired. For example, the judge would consider it a gross aggravating factor if an impaired driver caused serious injury to someone else while behind the wheel. Other gross aggravating factors include driving with a minor or driving on a revoked license and receiving a DWI.
The judge might also find aggravating factors in a DWI case. These include driving with a BAC that’s higher than 0.15% or reaching speeds that surpass the limit by 30 mph. Those who pass a stopped school bus, flee from police, or cause an accident will have aggravating factors added to their DWI, too.
DWI Levels and Consequences
All of these aggravating factors play into NC DWI Laws when it comes to sentencing. As one would expect, an aggravated DWI would come with a more severe consequence under the law.
With three or more gross aggravating factors present, a driver would face an aggravated level one DWI. With conviction would come a fine of up to $10,000, as well as jail time of 12 to 36 months. Judges might also send the defendant to rehab or order drug and alcohol monitoring, especially if they opt for probation over jail.
From there, the punishments become relatively more lenient. A level one DWI with two gross aggravating factors — or if the impaired driver had a minor passenger — would incur a fine of up to $4,000. The driver could go to jail for between 30 days and 24 months, although the judge could also agree to probation.
A single gross aggravating factor would equal a level two DWI and a fine of up to $2,000. The defendant could avoid jail time altogether, so long as they submit to sobriety testing for 90 days.
On that note, someone who already has a DWI charge on their record could deal with more severe punishment, too. For instance, a person with three DWIs already could spend three years in jail. Their fine could reach $10,000, as well.
DWIs without any gross aggravating factors are handled on a case-by-case basis. The judge will apply NC DWI Laws to determine if the offense is a level three, four, or five offense.
They do so by considering any mitigating factors of the charge. As the title implies, mitigating factors lessen the blow of a DWI charge. For instance, a person who became impaired by a prescribed medication could use that information as a mitigating factor.
The judge would also use a person’s relatively low BAC as a mitigating factor — anything less than 0.09% would help a defendant’s case. They could also argue that they were driving safely in spite of the breathalyzer’s reading.
So, a relatively low BAC could help a person lessen their DWI charge to a level 5 offense, which would carry an up-to-$200 fine and five days or less in jail. A level 4 charge would come with double the fines and jail time. And a person would have to pay up to $1,000 and spend between three days and six months in jail for a level 3 DWI.
Finally, anyone convicted under North Carolina DUI Laws would have their license revoked by the state. The length of punishment would depend on the number of DWI charges a person has on their record.
After an initial offense, a person would lose their license for a year. A second charge would come with a four-year revocation. And a third DWI would mean that the driver would lose their license permanently.
Still, a person can petition the DMV to reinstate their license, even after a third offense. Getting it back would be a subjective decision, of course, so driving safely would be the best way to maintain a good standing under NC DUI Laws.
North Carolina DWI Laws — Tough, But Worth It
As you can see, North Carolina DUI laws are serious. If you do the crime, you will do time — or pay a fine. The consequence should make anyone think twice about getting behind the wheel while impaired.
Of course, everyone makes mistakes, so know what to expect if you or a loved one has been charged with a DWI. Contact us if you need to post bail for a DWI or any other charge under NC Law.