North Carolina DUI Laws

North Carolina DUI Laws

In North Carolina, the words “driving while intoxicated” (DWI) and “driving under the influence” (DUI) refer to any situation wherein a driver operates a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Every state has different DUI/DWI laws that must be followed, and this one is rather severe. If you or a family member is accused of driving while intoxicated, you should be aware of the potential penalties for your conviction and your most robust defenses. A competent DWI defense attorney in Durham can significantly increase your chances of success and, in some cases, even help you escape being found guilty.

How DWI Is Proven

Any suspected DWI is subject to the implied consent law enforced in North Carolina. It means that the apprehended driver is legally obligated to submit to a chemical test once a police officer makes a valid arrest for suspected DWI. Any blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of more than .08% is considered a DWI for alcohol testing. For commercial drivers, the limit is only .04%, and operating a vehicle with a detectable blood alcohol content (BAC) by a driver under 21 is prohibited. 

Although it is more challenging to prove drunkenness from drugs, it is usually more difficult to conceal the physical indicators of drug usage. Following the establishment of reasonable cause by a police officer to make a DWI arrest, the suspect is placed under arrest and asked to provide a chemical sample. If they decline, the Department of Motor Vehicles will immediately suspend their driver’s license, and they will be subject to a heavier punishment if they are later found guilty of DWI in a criminal court. 

Police occasionally request field sobriety tests, and many drivers believe that this is part of the implication of the law, which means they have to provide consent to be checked. That is untrue, though, because submitting to a field sobriety test is not required by law for a driver accused of driving while intoxicated. Moreover, even sober drivers may find it challenging to complete these tasks accurately, and failing a field sobriety test may essentially provide the police with the evidence they require to prove probable cause to make an arrest.

Fines and Jail Time for North Carolina DWI Convictions

Below are the “minimum” and “basic” penalties for a DWI conviction. Nonetheless, the sentencing rules in North Carolina for charges involving impaired driving are complex. Five levels are included, where level five is the least severe.

Factors that aggravating and mitigating DWI

A sentencing hearing will occur after a DWI conviction. Both the prosecution and the defendant may introduce mitigating and aggravating evidence during this hearing.

  • Gross aggravating factors. “Gross aggravating” circumstances are driving while suspended for DWI, inflicting significant injury, and transporting a minor passenger while driving. Another major aggravating factor is a prior DWI committed within the last seven years.
  • Aggravating factors. A blood alcohol concentration of at least 15%, irresponsible driving, causing an accident, escaping police, exceeding the speed limit by at least 30 miles per hour, and bypassing a stopped school bus are examples of “aggravating” incidents. Another aggravating situation is having three demerit points and two past driving violations.
  • Mitigating factors. The driver may provide evidence of a low blood alcohol content (.09% or below), a prescription for the drug causing the problem, or comparatively safe driving. To increase mitigating factors, a driver may also agree to undergo treatment, a mental health screening, or 60 days of sobriety monitoring before being sentenced.

Based on these factors, the judge will assign the DWI offender a sentence under one of five levels. Following the rules for each level, the judge will determine the jail sentence, fines, and other penalties.

North Carolina DUI Laws In Durham

DWI sentencing levels in North Carolina

The penalties associated with the various sentencing levels are covered in the following section.

Level One Aggravated DWI Sentencing

The driver will be subject to the following if the judge discovers more than three gross aggravating factors:

  • 12 to 36 months in jail.
  • Fines of up to $10,000

If a judge grants probation, the driver will have to spend a minimum of 120 days in jail, be subject to drug and alcohol testing while on probation, and finish a program that includes assessment and treatment for alcohol and drugs.

Level One DWI Sentencing

A DWI involving a minor passenger or two serious aggravating factors bears the following penalties:

  • 30 days to 24 months in jail
  • Up to $4,000 fines

The driver must still serve ten days in jail, comply with sobriety monitoring, and finish a substance abuse treatment and assessment program before the judge can give him probation.

Level Two DWI Sentencing

One gross aggravating situation in a DWI will lead to:

  • Seven days to twelve months in jail
  • Up to $2,000 in fines

If drivers agree to at least ninety days of sober monitoring, they may avoid the minimum jail sentence.

In addition, the judge will mandate the conclusion of a drug and alcohol evaluation, treatment, or some other kind of rehabilitation program. A driver must perform 240 hours of community service if they have had a past DWI in the last five years.

Levels Three, Four, and Five

The judge will evaluate and balance the mitigating and aggravating factors if no severe aggravating factors exist. A level three punishment can be applied if the number of aggravating factors exceeds the number of mitigating factors. A level four penalty will be met for the motorist if the criteria are about equal. The judge will also apply level five sanctions if mitigating circumstances exceed aggravating ones.

  • Level 3: 72 hours to 6 months jail time and a fine of $1,000 max.
  • Level 4: 48 hours to 120 days jail time and a fine of $500 max
  • Level 5: 24 hours to 60 days jail time and a fine of $200 max

Generally speaking, community service can be used to escape the minimum jail sentence.

Following the suggested course of treatment or rehabilitation, a mandated substance abuse assessment is a requirement for all DWI convictions. The judge can allow time spent receiving inpatient treatment to be applied toward the necessary jail time.

North Carolina DUI Laws In Durham, NC

North Carolina DWI License Suspension

Anybody found guilty of a DWI will have their driver’s license suspended by the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in North Carolina. The driver must install an ignition interlock device (IID) after the revocation. As indicated below, the number of prior violations during the last seven years determines the IID and suspension periods.

  • 1st Offense: 1 year revocation period and one year (or, if underage, until age 21) ignition interlock device.
  • 2nd Offense: 4 years revocation period and three years ignition interlock device.
  • 3rd Offense: Permanent revocation and 7-year ignition interlock device.

Early License Reinstatement

If drivers agree to alcohol monitoring, they may be eligible for early reinstatement. It is possible to shorten a four-year revocation to two years and, after three years, restore a permanent revocation. After just 24 months, a permanent revocation may also be lifted if the driver has completed 12 months of sobriety monitoring. All drivers must turn in a certificate of treatment completion or the requisite substance addiction course before their licenses can be reinstated.

Getting a Restricted License to Drive in North Carolina During DWI Suspension

Generally speaking, first-time offenders are eligible for restricted driving privileges throughout revocation. The driver’s limited privileges allow them to drive to and from church, work, and school. 

The driver may need to finish treatment and use an IID to receive restricted privileges. Before getting limited privileges, drivers with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of.15% or more must wait at least 45 days for the revocation to end.

Is a DUI in North Carolina a felony?

In North Carolina, all three types of DWI offenses result in misdemeanor charges for the offender. However, the present incident is deemed to be “habitual impaired driving” and may result in a class F felony penalty if the offender had more than three prior DWI convictions in the last ten years.

Offenders charged with DWI who cause death or serious injury to another person may face felony charges. Serious injury DWIs are often classified as class F felonies. DWIs that cause death are often classified as class D felonies.

Underage DWI Laws in North Carolina

Drivers under the age of 21 who are found guilty of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs face a class 2 misdemeanor conviction. However, all drivers are eligible for a DWI charge. A conviction entails a possible 60-day prison sentence and fines of up to $1,000. In addition, the minor’s driver’s license will be suspended until age 21 and completion of all treatment requirements.

Contact Burkert & Constantinou Today

Our Durham DUI attorneys at The Law Offices of Constantinou & Burkert have been assisting people who were arrested on suspicion of DUIs for many years. We strive hard to offer our clients the second chance they deserve because we recognize the uncertainty and fear frequently accompanying these cases. Throughout your DUI case, we are here for you and your family. Our law firm can offer you the best opportunity to stay out of trouble.

Call our DWI defense attorney in Durham at (919) 683-1302 to learn how we can support you during your DUI claim.



Frequently Asked Questions

What is the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers in North Carolina?

The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers in North Carolina is 0.07%. To promote safer driving practices and reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents, North Carolina implemented this lower BAC limit in 2022. The state recognized that even small amounts of alcohol can impair a driver’s judgment and reaction time, so they decided to take a proactive approach by lowering the legal limit. This change has been successful in curbing drunk driving incidents and promoting responsible alcohol consumption among motorists.

What are the penalties for a first-time DUI offense in North Carolina?

The penalties for a first-time DUI offense in North Carolina are quite severe. Upon conviction, the offender can expect to face a combination of fines, driver’s license suspension, mandatory alcohol education programs, and even potential jail time. The specific penalties vary depending on the circumstances of the offense, such as blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level and any aggravating factors present. Generally, the offender can anticipate a fine ranging from $200 to $2,000, a license suspension of up to one year, mandatory completion of a substance abuse assessment program, and the possibility of spending anywhere from 24 hours to six months in jail.

Are there mandatory license suspensions for DUI convictions in North Carolina?

Yes, there are mandatory license suspensions for DUI convictions in North Carolina. As of 2024, the state has implemented a strict policy to deter drunk driving and ensure public safety. For a first-time DUI offense, the offender’s driver’s license will be suspended for six months. Subsequent offenses within a certain time frame will result in longer suspensions, with second offenses leading to a one-year suspension and third offenses resulting in a two-year suspension. Additionally, if an individual refuses to take a breathalyzer test during a traffic stop, their license will automatically be suspended for one year. These mandatory suspensions serve as a strong deterrent against driving under the influence and aim to protect the well-being of all North Carolina residents.

Is ignition interlock required for DUI offenders in North Carolina?

Yes, ignition interlock devices are required for DUI offenders in North Carolina. As of 2024, North Carolina has implemented strict measures to combat drunk driving and ensure public safety. The state law mandates the installation of ignition interlock devices for all individuals convicted of driving under the influence. These devices are installed in the offender’s vehicle and require a breathalyzer test before starting the engine. This measure acts as a deterrent and prevents intoxicated individuals from operating a vehicle while under the influence. It also provides rehabilitation opportunities by promoting responsible behavior and discouraging repeat offenses.

Are there different penalties for DUI offenses involving drugs in North Carolina?

Yes, there are indeed different penalties for DUI offenses involving drugs in North Carolina. The state recognizes that driving under the influence of drugs poses a unique set of risks and dangers compared to alcohol-related DUI offenses. Therefore, North Carolina has implemented stricter penalties for drug-related DUI offenses to ensure public safety. Offenders caught driving under the influence of drugs may face more severe fines, longer license suspensions, mandatory drug education programs, and even potential imprisonment. These enhanced penalties reflect the state’s commitment to combating drug-impaired driving and protecting its citizens on the road.

Can a DUI conviction lead to jail time in North Carolina?

A DUI conviction in North Carolina can indeed lead to jail time. The severity of the punishment depends on various factors, such as the offender’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of arrest, any prior DUI convictions, and whether there were any aggravating circumstances involved. Generally, for a first-time offense with a BAC below 0.15%, the offender may face up to 60 days in jail. However, if the BAC is above 0.15% or there are aggravating circumstances, such as causing injury or property damage, the jail term can be extended up to 12 months. Repeat offenders or those convicted of more serious offenses may face even longer periods of incarceration.

How long does a DUI conviction remain on your driving record in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, a DUI conviction typically stays on your record for 10 years. It may have various implications for your personal and professional life during this time. However, after the 10-year mark, the conviction is automatically expunged from your record, giving you a fresh start. It’s important to note that this timeframe may vary depending on the severity of the offense and any subsequent violations. It is always advisable to consult with a legal professional for accurate and up-to-date information regarding DUI convictions in North Carolina.

What are the fines associated with a DUI conviction in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, the fines associated with a DUI conviction vary depending on the case’s specific circumstances. As of 2024, the base fine for a first-time DUI offense is $500. However, this amount can increase significantly if aggravating factors are present, such as a high blood alcohol concentration or a minor in the vehicle at the time of the offense. The fine can range from $1,000 to $10,000 in such cases. Additionally, repeat offenders may face higher fines and penalties. It’s important to note that these figures are subject to change based on updates to North Carolina’s DUI laws and should be verified with current legal resources.

Is participation in alcohol education or treatment programs required for DUI offenders in North Carolina?

Yes, participation in alcohol education or treatment programs is indeed required for DUI offenders in North Carolina. The state has recognized the importance of rehabilitation and ensuring that individuals understand the consequences of their actions. Therefore, as part of the legal process, DUI offenders are mandated to complete an alcohol education or treatment program. These programs aim to educate individuals about the dangers of drunk driving, provide counseling services, and help them develop strategies to prevent future offenses. By requiring participation in these programs, North Carolina aims to reduce recidivism rates and promote safer roads for all residents.

Are there enhanced penalties for aggravated DUI offenses in North Carolina?

Absolutely! In North Carolina, there are indeed enhanced penalties for aggravated DUI offenses. These penalties are imposed when certain aggravating factors are present during the offense. Some of these factors may include driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above a certain threshold, causing severe bodily injury or death to another person, or having multiple prior DUI convictions. The enhanced penalties can result in longer license suspensions, higher fines, mandatory alcohol education programs, and even potential jail time. It is crucial for individuals to understand the severity of aggravated DUI offenses and to always prioritize safe and responsible driving practices.

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