Driving Under the Influence (DWI) is a serious offense in North Carolina. Depending on the severity of the case, offenders face anywhere from fines and probation to two years in prison.
The best way to avoid the fines and possible jail time associated with DWI charges is to steer clear of drinking and driving. If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of being pulled over while under the influence of alcohol, here are some tips for navigating the situation:
Pull over in a safe place. It’s important to pull over as soon as you can, but not before finding a safe spot where you and the officer are out of harm’s way. Pulling over in an unsafe location could be perceived by the officer as further evidence of intoxicated behavior.
Stay calm and keep your hands visible. Once you’re parked in a safe place, lower your window, turn off your engine, and rest your hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel. Do your best to relax, wait patiently for the officer’s instructions, and try not to make any sudden or suspicious movements.
Be polite. When the officer approaches your car and begins requesting information, it’s very important to answer questions clearly, calmly, and honestly – if you choose to answer. Avoid offering any information outside of that requested by the officer. Try not to say anything unless the officer has asked a question, because everything you say can be used as evidence against you.
You don’t have to answer every question. You can refuse to answer any question you believe may incriminate you. If you do choose to tell the officer that you have been advised not to answer any questions, it’s important to remain calm and not provide false information or resist arrest.
You can refuse tests. DWI lawyers recommend that you refuse a field sobriety test and a portable breathalyzer. Field sobriety tests and hand-held breathalyzers are unreliable and could result in a reading that is higher than the actual blood alcohol concentration (BAC). You are required to take a breath test at the station, but by the time you have arrived at the station your BAC may be lower.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in NC
If you’ve been charged with DWI, your penalties can be affected by certain aggravating and mitigating factors:
Aggravating factors – A person can be charged with DWI in North Carolina if they are found to be operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher. If the BAC is .15% or higher, that extreme level of alcohol in the blood is considered an aggravating factor. Other aggravating factors include:
- Causing a collision
- Eluding police
- Reckless driving
- Speeding at least 30 mph over the speed limit
- Passing a stopped school bus
Gross aggravating factors – These factors include causing serious injury, driving with a revoked license, driving with a minor passenger, and having a prior related charge.
Mitigating factors – Factors that may potentially lessen the severity of a sentence include having a BAC of .09% or lower, safe driving, a clean record, and completion of treatment prior to sentencing.
Levels of NC Misdemeanor DWI
There are five levels of misdemeanor DWI charges, and they are each characterized by varying degrees of aggravating and mitigating factors. For levels three through five, treatment for alcohol abuse will most likely be required. Each level carries its own degree of punishment:
Level 5 – Up to $200 in fines and 24 hours to 30 days in jail — This level is usually associated with one or more mitigating factors.
Level 4 – Up to $500 in fines and 48 hours to 120 days in jail — This level may or may not involve aggravating factors.
Level 3 – Up to $1,000 in fines and 72 hours to six months in jail — This level is characterized by aggravating factors that outweigh the mitigating factors.
Level 2 – Up to $2,000 in fines and seven days to one year in jail — This level is characterized by including one gross aggravating factor.
Level 1 – Up to $4,000 in fines and 30 days to two years in jail — This level is characterized by including two gross aggravating factors or involving a minor passenger.
Aggravated Level 1 – Up to $10,000 in fines and 12 months to three years in jail — This level is characterized by involving three or more gross aggravating factors.
Stay Informed and Ahead with an Experienced Attorney
If you are facing any level of DWI charges, be sure to seek legal help. It’s important to know exactly what you’re up against, and the help of an experienced legal professional could be the difference between probation and jail time.