In North Carolina, a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge may be assessed on any driver over age 21 who has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or greater. The state’s legal limit for commercial drivers is .04 percent. North Carolina DWI penalties can be enforced for drivers under 21 who have any discernible alcohol in their system.
North Carolina has an implied consent law that binds drivers to a chemical test when they are suspected of driving intoxicated. Failure to submit to a chemical test for the first time is punishable by up to a one-year license suspension. There is no statutory provision for failing to submit to subsequent chemical tests.
In North Carolina, individuals may attempt to plea bargain a DWI charge and reduce it to “wet reckless,” which implies reckless driving involving alcohol. Such a plea is typically allowed if a driver’s BAC is borderline and he or she
was not involved in an accident and has no previous convictions.
However, if a driver is subsequently caught driving while impaired, a wet reckless plea will be considered a prior DWI conviction.
The state of North Carolina considers mitigating factors, aggravating factors and grossly aggravating factors when assessing punishment. North Carolina DWI penalties may be assessed at five different levels.
Mitigating factors include:
- Evidence of slight impairment when no chemical test is available
- A safe driving record
- A BAC of .09 percent or less
- Impaired, but otherwise driving lawfully
- Impaired due to legal prescriptions
- Voluntary submission to a mental health facility for evaluation
Aggravating factors include:
- A BAC of .15 percent or above
- Reckless driving
- A suspended driver’s license
- Prior DWI convictions
- Speeding in an attempt to elude police
- Speeding in excess of 30 mph over the limit
- Illegally passing a school bus.
Grossly aggravating factors include:
- Prior DWI within the last seven years
- DWI during the license suspension of a previous DWI
- DWI that causes serious injury to another person
- DWI with a minor passenger under the age of 16 years
Level 1 Punishment
A Level 1 offense occurs when a driver is found to have two grossly aggravating factors. The punishment for a Level 1 offense is a fine of up to $4,000, and a prison term that may range from 30 days to two years.
Level 2 Punishment
A Level 2 offense occurs when a driver is found to have one grossly aggravating factor. The punishment is a fine of up to $2,000, and a prison term that may range from seven days to one year.
Level 3 Punishment
A Level 3 offense occurs when aggravating factors substantially outnumber mitigating factors. The punishment is a fine of up to $500 as well as a 72-hour prison sentence, 72 hours of community service or a combination of both sentencing and community service.
Level 4 Punishment
A Level 4 offense occurs when there are no aggravating or mitigating factors or the two factors balance each other out. The punishment is a fine of up to $500 as well as a 48-hour prison sentence, 48 hours of community service or a combination of both sentencing and community service.
Level 5 Punishment
A Level 5 offense occurs when mitigating factors substantially outnumber aggravating factors. The punishment is a fine of up to $200 as well as a 24-hour prison sentence, 24 hours of community service or a combination of both sentencing and community service.