A DWI conviction in North Carolina comes with some of the most staggering criminal and civil penalties in the country — not to mention the additional financial cost associated with having one on your record.
Get caught driving drunk with a child passenger, though, and you could find yourself in court battling child abuse charges, too. A child abuse conviction can leave you responsible for additional criminal penalties, and, potentially devastating civil consequences, namely losing custody of your child.
How DWI Charges Work in North Carolina
North Carolina has five levels of DWIs, with a Level 5 being the least severe and a Level 1 being most severe. The criminal penalties range from one day to two years behind bars, and fines between $200 and $4,000.
Judges here have an unusual amount of discretion over the DWI level with which you are ultimately charged. Considerations include whether any of the aggravating factors are present:
- A passenger under 18 years of age
- Any prior DWI offenses
- Prior serious traffic infractions
- A blood alcohol content of 0.15+
- Injury or property damage
As a general rule of thumb, when any of these circumstances are met, you can expect the following sentencing levels accordingly:
- No Aggravating Factors: Level 5 DWI; 1-60 days in jail + $200 fine
- One Aggravating Factor: Level 2 DWI; 7-360 days in jail + $2,000 fine
- Two-Plus Aggravating Factors: Level 1 DWI; 1 month – 2 years in jail + $4,000 fine
You will automatically be charged with a felony DWI if you have had three DWI convictions within the past seven years or if you were the cause of serious injury or death while driving intoxicated.
In addition to the criminal penalties above, you may also be subject to civil penalties like license suspension or revocation, ignition interlock device, and mandatory DWI education and treatment programs.
What Happens When Your NC DWI Includes a Child Passenger
If you have a child passenger when arrested for a DWI, chances are you will be charged with misdemeanor child abuse.
According to North Carolina law (statute 14-318.2), misdemeanor child abuse occurs when the child’s caretaker:
- Inflicts physical injury on the child
- Allows physical injury to be inflicted on the child
- Creates or allows a substantial risk of physical injury to the child
Upon conviction of this Class A1 misdemeanor, you could face up to five months in jail or on probation. What’s worse are the potential civil and social consequences. They can be devastating.
If you share custody of your child, you could lose custody and/or visitation rights to your child’s other parent.
A child abuse charge could trigger an investigation from child protective services, which in some cases can result in losing all custody of the children.
Not to mention, child abuse carries a very negative societal stigma and may cause interpersonal problems with family members and friends.
The bottom line is that if you’re caught driving impaired with a child in your car in North Carolina, a DWI charge may be the least of your concerns. If there’s ever been a reason to fight back to beat or reduce your charges with aggressive criminal defense, your children are it.
Reach out to an experienced North Carolina defense attorney to talk through what can quickly become an extremely complicated situation and begin building your best defense.