We usually associate getting pulled over in a car with a simple traffic issue – speeding, running a red light or stop sign, failing to use a turn signal, and so on. These traffic violations are considered minor offenses called infractions. When we get a minor infraction, the police officer writes us a ticket, we have to pay a fine, and there may be negative effects for our driving record or car insurance rates.
Sometimes, however, people get pulled over for a traffic violation that isn’t so minor. Instead of being pulled over for an infraction, we may be pulled over for a misdemeanor or felony offense. For a traffic violation to be considered a crime, the driver of a vehicle must cause injury to a person, create a real threat of injury to a person, cause destruction of property, or create a real threat of destruction of property.
So what is considered a criminal traffic charge in North Carolina?
Misdemeanor Traffic Crimes
DWI. In North Carolina, you can be charged with a DWI – driving while intoxicated – if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 or higher. A first-time DWI charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,000 in fines and a minimum of 24 hours in jail.
A second DWI charge is also a misdemeanor, punishable by up to $2,000 in fines and a minimum 7 days to 12 months in jail. A third DWI charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,000 in fines and minimum 14 days to 2 years in jail.
Failure to stop at the scene of an accident. If you’re the driver of a car and you are involved in a crash – whether the vehicle is attended or unattended – you have to stop at the scene of the accident or you can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
If the other vehicle is attended, you must provide all of your driving information to the vehicle owner. If the other vehicle is unattended, you must locate or notify the vehicle owner, contact a police officer, or leave a written notice with all of your driving information.
If you commit a hit and run and there is property damage or minimal injuries, you can face up to one year in jail in addition to fines.
Reckless driving. If you are charged with reckless driving, you were allegedly operating a motor vehicle in a way that endangers the welfare of other people or property through a willful manner or driving at a speed that could endanger. Reckless driving is a Class 2 misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail.
Felony Traffic Crimes
Felonies are the most serious of traffic crimes – or any crime – and usually carry prison sentences over a year.
Vehicular manslaughter. If you kill someone while driving a car, you can be charged with vehicular manslaughter. Vehicular manslaughter is punishable by 15 months to 40 years in prison if you cause the death of another person while operating a motor vehicle:
- In a grossly negligent manner
- In a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- With a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher
- If you – the driver – leave the scene of the accident
Habitual DWI. A DWI charge is classified as a felony if a driver has 3 or more prior DWI convictions within 7 years. The Habitual DWI statute requires a minimum jail sentence of one year, which can’t be suspended.
Hit and run. If you’re involved in an accident, you have to stop. If you don’t stop and you cause injuries or death, you can be charged with a felony offense.
If the accident results in serious injury or death, you can be charged with a Class H felony. A felony hit and run carries a potential sentence of up to 8 months for a first time offender. So, if you don’t have a criminal history, you won’t be sentenced to more than 8 months in jail. If you have other prior convictions on your record, however, your sentence could be greatly expanded.
If you are facing criminal traffic charges, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer today to fight your charges and know your rights. A qualified criminal traffic lawyer can help to reduce your charges, jail time, and license suspension.
About the Author
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.