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Penalties and Sentencing for Driving While Impaired

Many find it surprising that a Driving While Impaired, or DWI, is a misdemeanor, and not automatically a felony in North Carolina. Penalties can range widely and there are many factors that influence sentencing. Sentencing for DWI is different than for other misdemeanors. If you have been charged with DWI, it is important to realize that it is a serious offense and one that will have severe consequences. It is essential to seek legal representation from an experienced Union County DWI attorney as soon as possible.

DWI Sentencing Factors

The judge has some leeway when imposing a sentence. There are factors that must be considered when determining the sentence. There are factors that can make the sentence worse and these are known as aggravating or grossly aggravating factors. There are also some factors that can reduce the sentence and these are called mitigating factors.

Aggravating Factors

These factors are considered aggravating:

  • Gross impairment while driving or a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.15 or more.
  • Driving that is especially reckless or dangerous.
  • Negligent driving which resulted in a reportable accident
  • Driving with a revoked license
  • Two or more prior traffic violations (not involving impaired driving) in the last five years for which at least three points were assigned or for which the driver’s license was subject to revocation.
  • Conviction of speeding while fleeing or attempting to allude police
  • Conviction of speeding of at least 30 MPH over the limit
  • Passing a stopped school bus
  • Any other factors that may increase the serious nature of the offense

The judge may determine that the behavior of the defendant was such that it aggravated the situation and could be considered an aggravating factor.

Grossly Aggravating Factors

Four factors are considered grossly aggravating. These factors include:

  • Prior conviction for impaired driving when the conviction occurred within the last seven years, when the prior conviction occurred after this one or when a new sentencing hearing has not yet taken place on an appealed case.
  • Driving while the license was suspended or revoked for impaired driving
  • Serious injury caused to a person by the defendant’s impaired driving
  • Driving with a minor under the age of 18, or a disabled person, at the time of impaired driving.

It is important to note that each prior impaired driving conviction is considered a separate grossly aggravating factor.

Mitigating Factors

Mitigating factors are those that can help reduce the severity of the sentence in a DWI case. There are seven specific mitigating factors:

  • Slight impairment from alcohol when the BAC was not higher than 0.09% BAC during the relevant testing period.
  • Slight impairment from alcohol when no chemical testing was available.
  • Driving was safe and lawful except for the impairment
  • Safe driving record with no conviction of four or more points or for which the license could be suspended during the last five years.
  • Impairment was due to lawfully prescribed drug for treatment of an existing medical condition and the amount taken was the prescribed dosage.
  • Defendant voluntarily submitted to a mental health facility for assessment following the offense and voluntarily participated in treatment if recommended.
  • Successful completion of a substance abuse assessment and compliance with recommendations and maintaining 60 continuous days of abstinence from alcohol use as proven through monitoring. The monitoring device must be approved.

The judge has the ability to consider other actions or behaviors as mitigating for purposes of sentencing. A knowledgeable Union County DWI attorney will present potential mitigating factors in your case for the judge to consider during sentencing.

DWI Punishment Levels

There are many different punishment levels depending on the aggravating, grossly aggravating, and mitigating factors present in the case.

Aggravated Level One DWI Punishment –When there are three or more grossly aggravating factors.

  • Fines of up to $8,000
  • Jail sentence of 12 months to 36 months with no parole

Level One DWI Punishment – When there was a minor in the vehicle or any two other grossly aggravating factors are present.

  • Fines up to $4,000
  • Jail sentence of 30 days to 24 months and probation

Level Two DWI Punishment – When there is one grossly negligent factor present.

  • Fines up to $2,000
  • Jail sentence of seven days to 12 months and probation

Level Three DWI Punishment – When there are no grossly aggravating factors and the aggravating factors substantially outweigh the mitigating factors.

  • Fines up to $1,000
  • Jail sentence of 72 hours to six months and probation

Level Four DWI Punishment – When no aggravating or mitigating factors are present or when the mitigating factors are about the same as the aggravating factors.

  • Fines up to $500
  • Jail sentence of 48 hours to 120 days and probation

Level Five DWI Punishment – When mitigating factors outweigh aggravating factors.

  • Fines up to $200
  • Jail sentence of 24 hours to 120 days and probation
Additional Penalties

In addition to the penalties that are imposed by a judge, you will also face penalties that are imposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles, DMV, if convicted. For the first DWI conviction, your license will be revoked for one year. For a second DWI conviction, the DMV will revoke your license for a period of time that depends on how long ago the prior DWI convictions were. A third DWI conviction could result in permanent revocation of your license. A DWI conviction for someone under the age of 21 will require a one year revocation of your license. It is important to note that you may be eligible for limited driving privileges, also called a hardship license. A Union County DWI attorney will assist you in getting your driving privileges back when possible.

There are many factors that can influence DWI sentencing. For this reason it is extremely beneficial to have representation from a highly skilled DWI attorney. Even if you are convicted of DWI, there can be a large variance in the penalties that could be imposed. Contact our Union County attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC today for a case consultation.