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In North Carolina, receiving a DWI is more complex than you might think. The process doesn’t stop at conviction. In fact, there’s another hearing after conviction known as the sentencing or post-conviction hearing. 

The post-conviction hearing is just as important as the original DWI trial. Knowing what to expect at your sentencing hearing can help you prepare for it more effectively. 

Here’s how sentencing hearings work and what to expect during yours.

How Sentencing Hearings Work

Sentencing hearings are a follow-up to a DWI conviction. Once you have been convicted of a DWI, a sentencing hearing is scheduled. This hearing is intended to help clarify the case and aid the judge in assigning your sentence. 

Presenting New Evidence

Certain evidence is irrelevant to whether or not you are convicted but does come into play when it comes to penalties for the conviction.

During a sentencing hearing, the prosecutor will present any aggravating evidence that would increase the potential penalty. Meanwhile, as the defendant, you can present mitigating evidence. These pieces of evidence are taken into account in the sentencing process. 

Aggravating Factors

The prosecutor will specifically present evidence that might increase your sentence. There are aggravating factors and grossly aggravating factors, both of which can seriously increase the penalties you face. 

Gross aggravating factors include:

  • Causing an accident that leads to serious injuries
  • Driving with a DWI-revoked license
  • Committing a DWI with an underage passenger
  • Committing a DWI while a prior DWI in the past seven years

These are considered particularly serious violations, so they are more heavily weighted than simple aggravating factors. These simple aggravating factors include:

  • Having a BAC of 0.15% or higher
  • Reckless driving
  • Causing an accident
  • Avoiding police
  • Speeding 30 or more miles over the speed limit
  • Passing a stopped school bus
  • Having two or more prior traffic violations
  • Having three demerit points on your license

These factors are still considered important, but not quite as serious as those defined as gross aggravating factors. 

Greensboro DWI Defense

Mitigating Factors

On the other hand, if the DWI was a fluke, you can submit the following mitigating factors to potentially reduce your sentence:

  • Low BAC {0.09% or lower)
  • Proof of prescription of the impairing substance
  • Proof of driving responsibly
  • A mental health screening
  • Proof of 60 days sobriety monitoring
  • Proof of treatment for substance abuse after the incident but before the sentencing hearing

Working with an experienced DWI attorney can help you present this information effectively. 

Why Sentencing Hearings Matter

The information presented at your hearing will determine what types of penalties you face. The judge uses this evidence to sentence you to one of five levels of potential penalties

The success of your post-conviction hearing will determine whether you need to attend a substance abuse treatment program, whether you receive jail time, and more.

Five Penalty Levels in NC

The five levels of DWI penalties go from weakest to most severe. Level 5 penalties include 24 hours to 60 days in jail and a maximum of $200 in fines. Judges assign Level 5 penalties if mitigating factors outweigh any aggravating factors. 

Level 4 penalties are assigned if mitigating and aggravating factors are roughly in balance. This includes 48-120 days in jail and up to $500 in fines. 

Meanwhile, if no grossly aggravating factors exist but simple aggravating factors outweigh mitigating evidence, level 3 penalties are assigned. This includes 72 hours to 6 months in jail at the judge’s discretion and up to $1000 in fines. 

NC Penalty Enhancements

When any gross aggravating factors are involved, penalties become more severe. Because gross aggravating factors involve either repeat offenses or serious harm to another, they have significantly higher penalties. 

Any DWI with at least one gross aggravating factor can result in a week to a year of time in jail or 90 days of monitored sobriety. Judges will also order a drug and alcohol assessment and a rehab course for the intoxicating substance. Fines can be as high as $2000. 

If two gross aggravating factors are involved, then level one penalties are imposed. This includes an absolute minimum of 10 days in jail but may include up to two years of prison time. Fines can reach $4000, and sobriety monitoring and a substance abuse treatment program are required. 

Finally, if three or more aggravating factors are present, then aggravated level 1 penalties are applied. This includes at least three months in jail, even with probation, and potentially up to 3 years of prison time. Fines can reach $10,000 and substance abuse programs are mandatory.

Greensboro DWI Attorney

How you handle your post-conviction DWI hearing makes all the difference. Working with a qualified DWI attorney can be the difference between months in jail or simple probation. If you have been convicted of a DWI offense in North Carolina, you should reach out to a DWI attorney today.

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