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In North Carolina, driving while impaired (DWI) is a serious crime. It’s also a crime with a bit of a complicated sentencing structure in the event you are found guilty.

The best-case scenario for a DWI case in North Carolina involves small fines and community service. The worst case can send someone to prison a couple of years and require them to pay thousands in fines, among other penalties.

Here’s a guide to help you understand the DWI sentencing structure in the state so you can understand what to expect if convicted of this crime.

North Carolina Sentencing Structure

Sentencing for DWIs in North Carolina is structured into six different levels that go from most severe to least severe. The judge uses this as a guide to determine what the sentence should be in conjunction with the evaluation of other factors in the case.

These are broken down into three factors: mitigating factors, aggravating factors, and grossly aggravating factors.

Factors That Impact Sentencing

There are three categories of factors that a judge will take into consideration during sentencing for a North Carolina DWI. They are:

Mitigating Factors

Mitigating factors are taken into account in order to make the offense less serious. They include:

  • A blood alcohol level of less than 0.09 percent
  • A history of safe driving
  • Impairment from drugs that were prescribed by the doctor — and the amount taken was the amount prescribed
  • Lawful and safe driving except for the impairment of drugs or alcohol
  • Voluntary assessment for substance abuse and treatment
  • Abstinence from alcohol for 60 days as shown by a continuous alcohol monitoring system

Aggravating Factors

These are factors that make the offense more serious in the eyes of the court. They include:

  • A blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent or higher
  • Dangerous or reckless driving
  • Driving when the driver’s license was revoked
  • Speeding in an effort to elude police
  • Going 31 miles per hour or more over the speed limit
  • Convictions for two or more 3+ point driving infractions within the last five years
  • One or more convictions for impaired driving over the last seven years
  • Passing a stopped school bus

Grossly Aggravating Factors

These factors elevate the seriousness of the DWI to the highest level. They include:

  • Any DWI convictions in the last seven years
  • Being convicted of another DWI after the DWI in question
  • Driving on a revoked license from an impaired driving offense
  • Causing serious injury to someone else because of the DWI
  • Someone under age 18 is a passenger at the time of the DWI
  • A passenger who is physically or mentally handicapped

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Levels of Penalties

The sentences for DWIs in North Carolina follow six different levels.

Level 5

This is the least serious level and one in which the judge sees that the mitigating factors outweigh any aggravating factors involved in the case.

The penalties for this level include fines of as much as $200 and as many as 60 days in jail. The judge may order a suspended jail sentence and instead assign up to 24 hours imprisonment through probation or 24 hours of community service.

Level 4

At this level, the judge usually finds that there’s a balance of aggravating and mitigating factors involved in the case. If convicted at this level, you will be sentenced to up to four months in jail and be responsible for fines up to $500. Your judge may suspend your jail sentence and instead order you to complete 48 hours of imprisonment through probation or 48 hours of community service.

Level 3

This level involves aggravating factors that outweigh any mitigating factors involved in the case. The penalties include fines of as much as $1,000 and may include up to six months in jail.

A judge can decide to suspend a jail sentence and instead require you to complete 72 hours of imprisonment through probation or 72 hours of community service.

Level 2

This level is often used to guide the sentence if there is one grossly aggravating factor involved in the case. It can result in up to one year in jail and fines of as much as $2,000.

A judge can decide to suspend the jail sentence and instead sentence you to only seven days in jail and 240 hours of community service — if you successfully complete 90 days of continuous alcohol monitoring by the court.

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Level 1

At this level, there are either two grossly aggravating factors in the case or a disabled person or minor was in the vehicle at the time of the DWI. It can result in up to $4,000 in fines and two years in jail. However, you may only have to complete 10 days in jail if 120 days of successful continuous alcohol monitoring is achieved.

Level A1

This is the most serious level, with at least three grossly aggravating factors involved. It can result in up to three years in jail and fines of $10,000.


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