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DWI Versus DUI in North Carolina: What’s the Difference? 2024

Many people are confused about the terms DWI vs. DUI in North Carolina, but the reality is that these two acronyms mean the same thing. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence (DUI) are effectively the same offenses under North Carolina law, so DWI and DUI can be used interchangeably. If you have been charged with DWI in the state, it is vital to find a defense attorney to represent you in your case.

Understanding DWI Charges

It is possible for a driver to be arrested and charged with DWI if a police officer conducts a lawful traffic stop for suspected DWI and confirms the driver is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. Any amount of drugs in the driver’s system will qualify for DWI prosecution, and the legal limit for blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08% for most drivers. There is a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under 21, meaning any detectable BAC can amount to a DWI.

If you are charged with DWI, the penalties you could face if you are convicted will depend on your level of intoxication at the time of your arrest, whether you have been charged with any additional offenses, and whether you caused harm to anyone else in an accident. For example, the penalties for a first DWI with no damage or injury will be far less severe than the penalties for a third DWI following a fatal accident.

Know Your Rights After an Arrest for DWI

Every American citizen has two important constitutional rights that come into play after an arrest. The first is the right to remain silent, which is protected by the Fifth Amendment. You are not required to act as a witness against yourself, so you are not required to answer any questions from the police after an arrest for any crime. Do not sign any statements once you are taken into custody, and do not try to explain your side of the story.

Second is the right to legal counsel, protected by the Sixth Amendment. You have the right to an attorney when you are accused of any crime, and you have the right to a speedy and fair trial. It is crucial that you remain silent after arrest until you have the opportunity to speak with an experienced defense attorney. Comply with instructions from arresting officers, and do not resist arrest. Say nothing that could be eventually used against you in court.

DWI Defense You Can Trust

Once you have defense representation, your attorney can review the details of your arrest to ensure it was lawful, and they will be able to identify any failures of the police to follow the rules of due process. They can also help determine other possible defenses, such as challenging toxicology reports or proving there was no probable cause for your arrest to occur in the first place.

Ultimately, securing representation from a defense attorney offers the greatest chance of avoiding conviction. The right attorney can quickly identify all the most viable defenses for their client and build a compelling case against the charges against them. The sooner the defendant secures representation, the better their chances are of reaching a positive conclusion to their case.


Q: What Are the Penalties for DWI?

A: The penalties for a DWI in the state depend on the severity of the offense, whether the defendant has prior DWI violations, and whether they caused an accident and/or hurt anyone with their impaired driving. The state assigns DWI violation severity on a scale of one to five, and penalties can increase significantly between levels. Penalties typically include a fine, driver’s license suspension or revocation, jail time, and restitution to victims.

Q: Do I Need to Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer for a DWI Charge?

A: You should hire a defense attorney whenever you have been charged with any crime, especially a DWI. This offense cannot be removed from your record, and you could face additional consequences aside from the penalties assigned by the court, such as increased auto insurance premiums. Your attorney can potentially help reduce your penalties significantly or even have your case dismissed under certain conditions.

Q: Are DWI and DUI the Same Thing?

A: DWI and DUI are the same thing, but the state’s laws specifically use the term DWI. Conversationally, the terms DUI and DWI are completely interchangeable and mean the same thing. Some states make legal distinctions between the two terms, but this is not the case in the state. While it is common to hear others refer to this offense as DUI, North Carolina legal statutes use the term “DWI.”

Q: How Do I Defend Against a DWI Charge?

A: You can defend against a DWI charge in various ways. You may need to prove that you were not actually intoxicated, that the police conducted an improper arrest, or that they did not actually have probable cause to stop you in the first place. It is vital to consult a DWI defense attorney right after your arrest and to not say anything to the police after they have arrested you. You have the right to remain silent until you can speak with an attorney.

Q: What Are Attorney Fees for a DWI Defense Attorney?

A: Attorney fees for a DWI defense attorney will depend on the attorney’s billing policy. Most criminal defense lawyers in North Carolina charge their clients by the hour, so the more time they spend working on a case, the more it costs the client. Always take time to review a prospective attorney’s billing policy before agreeing to their representation in your DWI case.

Christina Rivenbark & Associates has years of professional experience handling a wide range of complex DWI cases, and we can provide the criminal defense counsel you need if you have been arrested for DWI. You’re likely to have many questions in this challenging situation, and we are ready to provide the answers and support you need. Contact us today and make an appointment for a free consultation with a trustworthy defense team.

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