North Carolina legislators propose changes to drunk driving offenses

Within the hustle and bustle of the 2013 legislative session, North Carolina lawmakers are proposing significant changes to the criminal justice system. Some of the most noteworthy bills concern charges and sentences associated with drunk driving.

Ignition interlock devices

House Bill 43 would make North Carolina the 15th state to require ignition interlock devices for anyone convicted of driving while impaired.

Ignition interlocks test a person's blood-alcohol level before allowing a car to start. North Carolina's current law requires the devices for many repeat DWI offenders and limited first-time offenders found to have a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or higher. The legal threshold for the state is 0.08. Nevertheless, the issue regarding mandatory ignition interlock devices for all first-time offenders has been an ongoing debate in the state, and this year, some lawmakers are advocating a change in the law. Currently, the bill has bipartisan support, with 10 co-sponsors. At this time, legislative staffers are studying the potential costs associated with the bill.

Habitual DWI offenders

House Bill 31 would change the way habitual DWI status is determined. Under current law, a driver must be convicted of four DWIs within a 10-year period before the state's toughest penalties kick in.

The motivation behind the new proposal is tied to a 1980s Forsyth County case in which a drunk driver killed a North Carolina couple and their infant granddaughter. Despite a number of DWI charges since the incident and two prison sentences, the driver of that case is not considered a habitual DWI offender under North Carolina law. That is because he has not had four convictions in the last 10 years; much of this time was spent behind bars.

The planned habitual offender legislation would require four DWI charges in 10 years or a previous habitual DWI conviction, regardless of timing. In other words, if someone were convicted as a habitual offender, he or she would remain a habitual offender when sentenced for new drunk driving convictions outside of the 10-year period. Those convicted based on numerous offenses would not be given a break if they offended outside of the decade.

While no changes are official at this time, such proposals could significantly affect the charges and consequences associated with drunk driving. If you have been accused of a crime, it is important to understand what you are up against. This requires a thorough understanding of current laws and procedures, which are constantly evolving. To ensure that your rights are protected, contact an experienced criminal lawyer. A qualified attorney retains up-to-date knowledge of North Carolina's law.