Understanding North Carolina’s complex DWI statute

| Jul 24, 2020 | Criminal Defense

In North Carolina, driving while intoxicated (DWI) can be charged at any of five misdemeanor levels. Level I has the greatest penalties, while Level V has the lowest penalties. DWI can also be charged as a felony, under certain circumstances.

Here is an overview of the penalties associated with each level, along with the circumstances under which you might be charged with the more serious ones:

Level V

Between 24 hours and 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $200. Your sentence could be suspended upon performance of 24 hours’ community service or agreeing not to drive for 30 days.

Level IV

Between 48 hours and 120 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. Your sentence could be suspended upon performance of 48 hours’ community service or agreeing not to drive for 60 days.

Level III

Between 72 hours and six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Your sentence could be suspended upon performance of 72 hours of community service or agreeing not to drive for 90 days.

Level II

Between 7 days and one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. The minimum sentence cannot be suspended. There is no limited driving privilege available.

Level I

Between 30 days and two years in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. The minimum sentence cannot be suspended. There is no limited driving privilege available.

You might be charged with Level I or Level II DWI if you:

  • Had a prior DWI conviction in the last 7 years
  • Were driving on a license that was revoked due to a previous DWI conviction
  • Had a minor child in the car at the time of the alleged offense
  • Caused a crash while DWI that left someone with serious injuries

Driver’s license revocation

If you are charged with DWI or refuse to take an Intoxilyzer test, your driver’s license will be revoked immediately upon your arrest for 30 days. After 10 days, you can apply for a limited driving privilege that will allow you to drive to work or school. However, this is not always available, depending upon the circumstances of your charge and the level of the charge. You must obtain substance abuse treatment in order to get a limited driving privilege.

Felony DWI

If you have had three DWI convictions in the last seven years, you can be considered a habitual DWI offender and your next DWI charge is generally a felony. If convicted, you will serve a minimum active jail term of one year, and this cannot be suspended by a judge. You must also undergo a substance abuse program in jail or as a condition of your parole.

Forfeiture of vehicles by repeat DWI offenders

If you are arrested for DWI and were driving on a license that had already been revoked for a previous DWI, the arresting officer can seize your vehicle. If you are convicted, your car will be donated to the school board for sale or use. Even if you are not convicted, you can only get your car back if you can show the court that you are an innocent party.