DWI Punishment Levels in North Carolina

Getting a DWI can ruin your reputation, drain your finances, and take away your freedom. At the low end, convicted individuals may be looking at community service, probation, and fines; at the high end, they may be looking at years behind bars and loss of driving privileges.

With the prospect of such heavy penalties, it’s critical to acquire the legal counsel and representation of an experienced Raleigh NC DWI defense attorney. With years of experience helping Raleigh- and Wake County-area drivers, defense attorney Dewey Brinkley has the resources and courtroom experience to give you a vigorous defense. For a free consultation, call our criminal defense law firm in Raleigh today at (919) 832-0307.

Understand DWI Laws in North Carolina

It is illegal to drive a vehicle while noticeably impaired or with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08 or higher. For commercial drivers, the BAC threshold is 0.04, and for drivers under 21, North Carolina’s Zero Tolerance Law makes it illegal to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol. Repeat offenders often will be facing more severe punishments than first-time offenders. This law is detailed in NCGS §20-138.1.

The sentencing for DWI and impaired driving offenses is located in NCGS §20-179. The severity of the punishment is based on several factors, including:

  • Whether the offender was a first-time or repeat offender
  • Any aggravating or mitigating factors (see below)
  • Whether anyone was hurt or killed, and whether the drunk driving behavior was committed in a manner that was likely to hurt or kill another individual.

List of Drug and Alcohol Crimes

In addition to drinking, it is unlawful to drive under the influence of drugs. N.C. General Statutes Section 20-138.1 states that it is illegal to drive “under the influence of an impairing substance; or with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance, as listed in G.S. 90-89, or its metabolites in his blood or urine.”

Some other common drug and alcohol crimes include:

  • Having an open container if the driver is or has been consuming alcohol
  • Having an open or closed container in a commercial vehicle
  • Helping someone under the age of 21 acquire alcohol
  • Aggravated DWI
  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving
  • Driving with a suspended or revoked license
  • Child under 18 in the car with the drunk or drugged driver

This is not a complete list of North Carolina’s drinking and drugged driving laws, and it’s especially important to understand the law and the charges filed against you.

Criminal Penalties for DWI in North Carolina

There are 5 levels of criminal penalties for DWI charges in North Carolina, ranging from Level 1 (aggravated) to Level 5 (relatively minor offense). For first offenders who didn’t commit any aggravating factors, North Carolina doesn’t impose mandatory incarceration. However, the possibility of incarceration ranges. A judge can suspend a Level 5 offense in lieu of community service. It’s important to look at the details of the alleged crime.

The 5 levels of DWI offenses in North Carolina are listed below:

  • Aggravated Level 1 — NCGS § 20-179(f3)
    • Three or more grossly aggravating factors
    • Fine: Up to $10,000
    • Jail: Minimum of 12 months, maximum of 36 months
  • Level 1 — NCGS § 20-179(g)
    • Accompanied by a person under 18 years old at time of offense, or
    • Any two grossly aggravating factors present
    • Fine: Up to $4,000
    • Jail: Minimum of 30 days, maximum of 24 months
  • DWI Punishment Levels in North Carolina | Raleigh NC DWI AttorneyLevel 2 — NCGS § 20-179(h)
    • No minor (under 18 years old) in vehicle at time of offense, and
    • One grossly aggravating factor present
    • Fine: Up to $2,000
    • Jail: Minimum of 7 days, maximum of 12 months
  • Level 3 — NCGS § 20-179(i)
    • No grossly aggravating factors, and
    • Aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors
    • Fine: Up to $1,000
    • Jail: Minimum of 72 hours, maximum of 6 months
  • Level 4 — NCGS § 20-179(j)
    • No aggravating or mitigating factors present, or
    • Aggravating factors balanced by mitigating factors
    • Fine: Up to $500
    • Jail: Minimum of 48 hours, maximum of 120 days
  • Level 5 — NCGS § 20-179(k)
    • Mitigating factors outweigh aggravating factors
    • Fine: Up to $200
    • Jail: Minimum of 24 hours, maximum of 120 days

In addition to aggravating and mitigating factors, the severity of your punishment depends on prior criminal history and whether serious injury or death were involved.

Aggravating & Mitigating Factors

In the North Carolina legal system, grossly aggravating factors in a DWI offense include:

  • A prior conviction for DUI / DWI / OWI within 7 years
  • Driving on a revoked license from prior DWI
  • DWI resulted in serious injury
  • DWI committed with a child under 16 years of age in vehicle

Aggravating factors in a DWI offense include:

  • Gross impairment of faculties or BAC of 0.15 percent or more
  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving
  • Negligent driving that led to an accident
  • Driving with revoked license from prior DWI
  • Passing a stopped school bus
  • Fleeing or attempting to elude police
  • Speeding by 30 mph or more over the speed limit
  • Serious prior motor offenses, not necessarily related to DWI

Mitigating factors in a DWI offense include:

  • Only slight impairment, or a BAC that didn’t exceed 0.09 percent
  • Driving that was otherwise safe and uneventful
  • Safe driving record
  • Impairment of faculties from a legally prescribed drug, as long as dosage was within prescribed amounts
  • Voluntary entry into an alcohol, drug, or substance abuse program after arrest
  • Proof of 60 days of alcohol abstinence through a continuous alcohol monitoring system

Fighting a DWI Charge With Attorney Dewey Brinkley

If you’ve been charged with a DWI in Raleigh or Wake County, it’s important to know the charges against you. With the representation of criminal defense attorney Dewey Brinkley, we’ll work with you, investigating the circumstances of your case, and we’ll develop a criminal defense strategy to fight for your interests, your voice, and your case. For a free consultation with attorney Brinkley, call our Raleigh law firm today at 919-832-0307.

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