Driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the most common and preventable crimes that occur on North Carolina roads.
According to the CDC, there were over 4,000 people killed in drunk driving accidents from 2003-2011 in our state. Nationwide, one out of every three traffic deaths involves a drunk driver. And these numbers don’t even begin to count the number of injuries and arrests related to drunk driving.
Because driving drunk is considered a preventable crime, North Carolina takes it extremely seriously. But there are two sides to every DUI accident. So let’s take a look at both of those sides, depending on whether you’re being accused of a DUI or you are the victim of a DUI accident.
Criminal DUI Cases
In North Carolina, it is illegal to drive a vehicle if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 or above. There is zero tolerance for anyone under 21 years of age, which means no alcohol can be detected, and the limit is 0.04 for commercial drivers.
If you are pulled over on suspicion of a DUI, the law enforcement officer will determine if they have probable cause for an arrest. Since our state has an implied consent law, it means you have to submit to a chemical test to determine your BAC. If you refuse, your license will automatically be suspended and you will be subject to a fine.
The sentencing for a North Carolina DUI is complicated because there are five different punishment levels for each offense, with five being the least severe penalty and one being the most severe penalty.
A first-time, level 5 offender is subject to 24 hours in jail or 24 hours of community service, a $200 fine, and a license suspension for 60 days to 1 year. However, depending on the number of aggravating, grossly aggravating, or mitigating factors, the level of the offense and the penalties can change dramatically. A level 1 offender could be subject to 30 days and up to 24 months in jail along with a $4,000 fine.
The bottom line is that if you are arrested and subsequently convicted of a DUI, you will have a criminal record. If you want to try to avoid a conviction, your best hope of success is to work with an experienced North Carolina DUI attorney who will be able to determine the strongest strategy to get your charges reduced, dismissed, or dropped.
Civil DUI Cases
If you are on the other side of a DUI and were injured in a DUI accident, you also have rights.
Criminal proceedings are designed to protect the public from future harm at the hands of a drunk driver. A civil suit, on the other hand, allows the victim of a DUI accident to receive damages for their losses due to an injury or fatality.
North Carolina is a “fault state.” This means that the person who was legally at-fault for the accident bears the liability for damages or injuries caused by the crash. So filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault drunk driver will most likely be your only way to recover current and future medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, loss of future wages, and pain and suffering.
If a loved one is killed by a drunk driver, you can also file a civil suit for wrongful death on behalf of their estate. Wrongful death suits are similar to general personal injury lawsuits. You might be able to recover economic and non-economic damages, and although it’s rare, you might also be able to recover punitive damages – damages awarded to punish the driver and deter future drunk driving accidents.
It’s important to note that if you do want to file a civil suit against a drunk driver, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the injury. So it’s crucial to make your claim during this time period if you want to be compensated for your damages.
So there you have it. Regardless of which side you’re on, DUIs don’t have winners and losers. Being accused of driving under the influence can destroy someone’s life, as can suffering injury because someone was driving while intoxicated. But everyone deserves to have their rights protected, and the best way to do that is to seek out a lawyer with success in these areas.
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.