DWI: Impaired Supervision

Impaired non-drivers can face the same penalties as impaired drivers.What is “impaired supervision”?

Last November, my two brothers and their families joined my family to celebrate Thanksgiving at my home. I realized during the dinner’s final preparations that I had forgotten a few items from the store. I asked my niece—who is 16—to drive down to the store to get the items. Since she only had a learner’s permit at the time, her father—my brother Charles—rode along with her.

As they were pulling into the store’s parking lot, which was only three blocks from our house, a state trooper pulled in behind them. My niece, Carla, was frightened and slammed on the brakes, causing the car to lurch to a stop and requiring the state trooper to swerve to avoid striking them.

Needless to say, the state trooper was not pleased. He alleged that Carla had failed to use her turn signal, and that is why he had pulled in behind her. He said he could also charge her with reckless driving, based on her sudden stop when the trooper pulled in behind her.

Charles became upset with the trooper’s aggressive tone towards Carla, and demanded that he stop bullying her. When Charles spoke, the trooper noticed his breath smelled like alcohol. The trooper asked Charles if he had been drinking, and Charles admitted that he had consumed several beers while watching a football game at our house.

The trooper arrested Charles and, afterwards, Charles’ driver’s license was revoked. Charles has an upcoming court date. He wants to know if a person can be charged with DWI without actually driving. He also wants to know if he is facing any jail time for this offense.

Can a person be arrested for DWI even if the person was not driving?

The answer is yes, generally. The charge is not, technically, a DWI, but the potential penalties and the conduct of a so-called “impaired supervision” cases mirror the common DWI case. In fact, when an officer fills out the “Affidavit and Revocation Report of Law Enforcement Officer” when revoking a person’s license for “impaired supervision,” the form provides that the words “Supervisor/instructor” shall be substituted wherever the word “driver” appears on the form.

In effect, the impairment status of the supervisor is substituted for that of the driver, such that the supervisor is—at least in terms of the legal process and penalties one faces—the driver.

Parents, guardians and other adults who serve as “supervising drivers” for young drivers holding a learner’s permit can be charged with an implied-consent offense pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-16.2. That statute, coupled with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-139.1, form the backbone of North Carolina’s driving-while-impaired laws.

The bottom line, in other words, is if a person merely supervises the driving of a young person with a learner’s permit while under the influence of an impairing substance, one may be charged with an offense similar to or mirroring DWI and may face the very same penalties as a person who was personally operating a motor vehicle while impaired.

Where are the “impaired supervision” statutes found?

North Carolina’s statutes, or written laws, are divided into chapters, and Chapter 20 lists provisions relating to motor vehicles.

It is unlawful, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-12.1(a) for a person to serve as a supervising driver under G.S. 20-7(l) or G.S. 20-11 or as an approved instructor under G.S. 20-7(m) while under the influence of an impairing substance or after having consumed sufficient alcohol to have a concentration of .08 or more.

What is a supervising driver or instructor?

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-7(l) permits a person who is at least 18-years-old who has obtained a learner’s permit to operate a motor vehicle over the highways, as long as he or she is accompanied by a person who is licensed to operate the motor vehicle and the person is seated beside him or her.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-11 contains numerous provisions relating to the issuance of varying types of learner’s permits. Depending on the nature of the permit, the young driver licensed pursuant to the permit may only be permitted to operate a motor vehicle over the highways in the company of a “supervising driver.”

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-11(k) defines a supervising driver as a parent, grandparent, or guardian of the permit holder or a license holder or responsible person approved by the parent or guardian. The supervising driver must have been licensed for at least five years.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-7(m) provides for the issuance of restricted instruction permits, which allow permit holders to drive a specified type or class of motor vehicle on designated areas and highways and, in some instances, only when an approved instructor is occupying the seat beside the driver.

In each of these instances, young drivers are permitted to drive in certain, limited circumstances. One of the limitations is that they must drive with a supervisor.

It is important for anyone serving as a supervisor or instructor for a driver holding a permit to understand that generally all of the same rules that apply to a driver apply to a supervisor or instructor. It is unlawful for a permitted driver to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of an impairing substance; it is likewise unlawful for a person supervising or instructing the permitted driver to undertake such supervision while impaired.

What are the penalties for impaired supervision?

An offense under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-12.1(a) is an implied consent offense under G.S. 20-16.2, meaning all of the same rules and procedures providing for the revocation of and institution of restrictions upon a person’s license are applicable.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-35 provides that so-called “impaired supervision” charges are Class 2 misdemeanors. In addition to court costs, any fine imposed, and actions by the Division of Motor Vehicles against a person’s driving privileges, persons convicted of a Class 2 misdemeanor face anywhere from one to sixty days of punishment, depending on a person’s prior record of convictions. A person with no prior convictions may be sentenced to as little as a 1-day suspended jail or community sentence, while a person with five or more prior convictions may face a 60-day active jail term.

What should I do if I have been charged with impaired supervision?

The best thing you can do if you or someone you know is facing a charge of “impaired supervision” is to contact one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys today. Our team of experienced DWI attorneys are fighting on behalf of drivers in courtrooms across the State of North Carolina every day of the week. We understand the process, and we know what we need to do—and what you need to do—to provide the most effective representation and obtain the best result for you under the circumstances. Give us a call at (704) 370-2828 today.