Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) are terms used interchangeably in North Carolina to describe any incident in which a driver operates their vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Every state enforces unique DUI/DWI laws, and this state’s are comparatively severe. If you or a family member is charged with DWI, you should know the potential penalties you face if convicted and your best available defenses. The right DWI defense team can dramatically improve the results you reach, and they may be able to help you avoid conviction entirely under certain circumstances.
North Carolina enforces an implied consent law that applies to any suspected DWI. This means that once a police officer has conducted a lawful arrest for suspected DWI, the arrested driver is legally required to submit to chemical testing. For alcohol testing, any blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) over .08% qualifies as a DWI. However, the BAC limit is only .04% for commercial drivers, and it is illegal for a driver under 21 to operate a vehicle with any detectable BAC.
Proving intoxication by drugs is more challenging, but the physical signs of drug use are typically harder to hide. Once a police officer has established reasonable cause to conduct a DWI arrest, the suspect will be booked and required to submit a chemical sample. If they refuse, they automatically face a driver’s license suspension from the Department of Motor Vehicles, and if they are later convicted of DWI in criminal court, they will face a harsher sentence.
Sometimes, police will ask drivers to perform field sobriety tests, and many drivers assume these are components of the implied consent law and that they must consent to taking them. However, this is not true, and there is no legal requirement for a driver suspected of DWI to submit to field sobriety testing. Furthermore, these tests can be difficult for even sober drivers to perform correctly, and submitting to a field sobriety test could effectively amount to giving the police officer the evidence they need to establish probable cause and arrest you.
Like most other US states, North Carolina assigns penalties for DWI convictions that escalate with multiple offenses or in response to the severity of the offense. At a minimum, a driver facing their first DWI conviction could incur a fine, face jail time, and have their driver’s license suspended. The severity of these penalties fluctuates based on the driver’s level of intoxication, whether they hurt or killed anyone in an accident while under the influence, and their record of past convictions.
Some drivers convicted of DWI in the state will need to complete mandatory substance abuse rehabilitation programs, and some will be sentenced to drug and alcohol counseling and/or driver safety courses. In addition, if a driver is convicted of multiple DWI offenses within a few years, their penalties increase sharply, and if they hurt anyone while driving under the influence, they are likely to face a civil suit from the victim seeking compensation for the damages they inflicted.
It is very difficult to have a DWI charge reduced or dismissed unless the defendant can prove the charge was wrongful. It’s possible to have the charge reduced to reckless driving, but only under certain conditions. Typically, a judge will only consider such a reduction if the defendant does not have any prior DWI convictions, did not cause any harm or property damage, and displays genuine remorse for their actions. Your attorney can advise you as to whether any mitigating factors are present in your case that could incline the judge toward leniency.
If you are charged with a DWI, your driver’s license will be immediately suspended or revoked, depending on the severity of the offense and your driving record. Some defendants will be able to petition for restricted licenses after 10 days following arrest, but this option is not available to every defendant. The suspension period a driver faces depends on the severity of their offense and whether they have past DWI convictions on their record. In addition, restricted licenses are not granted to everyone who petitions for them, and a driver is unlikely to qualify unless they have a clear need to drive for work and necessary personal travel.
Pretrial case dismissals for DWI charges are exceedingly rare, and the state tends to pursue convictions in DWI cases aggressively. If your defense attorney can prove that the traffic stop that led to your arrest was wrongful in the first place, this could be enough to have your case dismissed in the earliest stages. Otherwise, if your case has already started to unfold, you will need to rely on your attorney to prove that the police failed to establish probable cause, failed to administer the chemical test in question correctly, or establish other exonerating factors that prevent the prosecutor from proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
While it may seem more prudent to have a public defender represent you for free, investing in private defense counsel means you will have more individualized and robust legal representation. An experienced private defense attorney will have more professional resources at your disposal throughout your case and significantly improve your chances of avoiding conviction if possible or at least mitigating your penalties if necessary.
The attorneys at Christina Rivenbark & Associates offer years of professional experience in criminal defense, including many successful DWI cases. We tailor our strategy to the client’s unique needs and concerns and provide ongoing support through every case we accept. If you are ready to learn how our team can assist you in your defense, contact us today and schedule a consultation with our firm.