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DWI (Driving While Impaired) FAQs

What is “Driving While Impaired”?

If you’ve been charged with Driving While Impaired, or DWI, the state of North Carolina is alleging that you operated a motor vehicle on a Public Street, Highway or Public Vehicular Area while subject to an impairing substance. This criminal charge is also sometimes referred to as “DUI”, or Driving Under The Influence”.

Alcohol is not necessarily the only impairing substance that can lead to a DWI charge. A driver can also be impaired by illegal or prescription drugs such as cocaine or marijuana, sleep medications such as Ambien, and some anti-depressants. It is important to understand that whether the impairing substance is alcohol or not, the severity of the offense in court does not change.

If I’m convicted, what are the penalties?

If you are convicted of DWI or plead guilty to the offense, the judge is required to conduct a sentencing hearing to determine whether there are aggravating or mitigating factors that affect the sentence to be imposed. Based on the existence of these aggravated or mitigated factors, the court will determine a Defendant’s sentencing level. Based on the evidence presented at the sentencing hearing, the court will impose a punishment ranging from a Level One (1) to a Level Five (5). A Level 1 punishment is the most severe sanction the court can impose, while a Level 5 is the most lenient.

The following is a list of some of the Grossly Aggravating, Aggravating and Mitigating factors that the court may take into account in determining a person’s sentencing level:

Grossly Aggravating Factors
  • Prior DWI conviction within 7 years from the date of arrest for a new DWI, as well as convictions occurring after the date of the offense, but present at time of sentencing for the offense in question.

  • Driving with a revoked license at the time of the offense due to a prior conviction for an alcohol related offense.

  • Serious injury to another person caused by the Defendant’s impaired driving at the time of the offense.

  • Driving by the Defendant with a child under age 16 in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

Aggravating Factors
  • Gross impairment of the defendant’s faculties while driving, or an alcohol concentration of .15 or more within a relevant time after the driving.

  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving.

  • Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.

  • Driving by the Defendant while his Driver’s License was revoked.

  • One or more prior convictions of an offense involving impaired driving that occurred more than 7 years before the date of the offense for which the Defendant is being sentenced.

  • Speeding by the Defendant at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit.

Mitigating Factors

  • Slight impairment of the Defendant’s faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and an alcohol concentration that did not exceed .09 at any relevant time after driving.

  • Driving at the time of the offense that was safe and lawful except for the impairment of the Defendant’s faculties.

  • A safe driving record with the Defendant having no convictions for any motor vehicle offense to which at least 4 points are assigned within 5 years of the date of the offense.

  • The Defendant has voluntarily submitted to a mental health facility for an assessment after being charged with the impaired driving offense for which he is being sentenced and, if recommended by the facility, the Defendant’s voluntary participation in the recommended treatment.

Typically, if a judge finds the existence of one Grossly Aggravating Factor, an active sentence of at least 7 days must be imposed. If two Grossly Aggravating Factors are found, an active sentence of at least 30 days must be imposed. The court in its discretion can order much longer jail sentences. The maximum jail sentence that can be imposed is 24 months.

A conviction for DWI can also result in monetary fines, periods of supervised or unsupervised probation, community service obligations, court imposed alcohol treatment, and Driver’s License suspension.

How long will my Driver’s License be suspended?

A person charged with DWI in North Carolina will receive a 30-day pre-trial suspension of their Driver’s License immediately following arrest. If a person charged with DWI elected not to take the Intoximeter or the Intoxilyzer, he or she may be subject to a 1-year suspension of their Driver’s License. A person has the ability to request a hearing to stay or prevent entirely the revocation that may come from refusing to blow on the intoxilyzer.

I took the Intoximeter test. Can I get my Driver’s License back while I’m waiting for my case to be resolved?

The state has the right to take away your Driver’s License for 30 days after you are charged with DWI. After 30 days, you may get your License restored after paying a $100 restoration fee to the Clerk of Court in the county in which you were charged. In some cases, you may be eligible to receive a pre-trial limited driving privilege 10 days after arrest. A pre-trial driving privilege is a limited driving privilege, signed by a judge, that allows driving for a prescribed period of time. Typically, persons who receive a pre-trial limited privilege are allowed to drive from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. In some instances, a judge may allow you to drive outside this prescribed period of time if the driving will be necessary for your employment or education.

What types of defenses do I against this charge?

Driving While Impaired can often be a very difficult case for the state to prove. The state has the burden of not only showing proof of the presence of alcohol in your body, but they also must prove that this alcohol has appreciably impaired your ability to operate a motor vehicle. This is often times a tall order for the state, especially if you have an experienced attorney who understands the law with respect to DWI cases.

There are actually numerous defense strategies that can be used, depending on your individual circumstances. We believe that obtaining the services of an experienced attorney can be invaluable in helping you resolve a DWI charge. We have helped countless clients just like you, and we would be happy to discuss your case and all specific details.

FACT: Taking the least expensive route today can actually cost you more in the long run.

North Carolina has some of the toughest DWI sentencing laws in the country. A conviction can result in harsh penalties that will affect your life today and well into the future. With so much on the line, choosing an inexperienced or inexpensive law firm today could end up costing you far more tomorrow. Wouldn’t you rather choose a solid, experienced firm with a proven track record of results?

For a free consultation, contact J. Bradley Smith at Arnold and Smith, PLLC at 704-370-2828.