According to North Carolina DUI laws, you can be charged with a DUI if you are found to have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or higher, but if you are a commercial driver, the legal limit is .04 percent. Since the state has a “zero tolerance” policy, people under the age of 21 are not allowed to have any alcohol in their system. If individuals under the age of 21 refuse a chemical test, they can still be charged with a DUI if an officer smells alcohol on their breath. In the last few years, laws have been changed so that law enforcement is able to test for alcohol or drugs, so people can face DUI charges for impairment due to either.
Felony DUI Charges
According to North Carolina DUI laws, the first three times someone is charged with a DUI, it is considered a misdemeanor unless he or she has caused the death of or serious injury to another person. Once someone has been convicted of a DUI three times within seven years, he or she is considered to be a habitual DUI offender, and subsequent DUI charges will be felonies. A fourth DUI conviction carries a mandatory minimum of one year in jail that cannot be suspended.
Graded DUI Sentencing
North Carolina DUI laws have levels of charges that determine the types of penalties that individuals accused of DUI will face if they are convicted. The level of a DUI charge that someone will face is based on a number of aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors include having a BAC of .15 percent or higher, driving on a revoked license and speeding. Mitigating factors are ones that may reduce the level of a DUI charge, such as driving in a safe manner, a BAC of .09 percent or lower, impairment due to a prescription drug and participation in a treatment program. Individuals who drive with a child under the age of 18 will automatically face level-one DUI penalties.
The penalties for each level of DUI include license suspension, fines and jail time, increasing incrementally with each level. A level-five DUI, the least severe, carries penalties of a 30-day license suspension, a maximum $200 fine and 24 hours to 60 days in jail although the jail time may be turned into community service. With a level-one DUI, sentencing for conviction includes a 30-day license suspension, a substance abuse assessment, 12 to 36 months in jail and monitored abstaining from alcohol for four months after release from jail.
As North Carolina is an implied consent state, you cannot avoid DUI charges by refusing to submit to a chemical test. Individuals may still be charged with a DUI if they do not submit, and they will also have their license revoked for 30 days. Unless someone is cleared at a hearing, their license will be suspended for a year, but they have the opportunity to apply for limited driving privileges after six months of suspension.
If someone is driving on a license suspended due to a previous drunk driving charges and an officer charges him or her with another DUI, the officer may seize the vehicle at the time of the arrest. Should the individual be convicted, the judge can declare the automobile forfeited, however, if the car is owned by someone else, that person will be able to have the vehicle returned to them.
What Is The Legal Alcohol Limit In North Carolina?
In North Carolina, most drivers are subject to a legal alcohol limit of .08 percent. Police officers suspecting motorists of driving while impaired (DWI) typically administer a breath or blood test to establish a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If a person registers a reading of .08 percent or above, he or she is typically arrested.
While the legal alcohol limit of .08 percent applies to most North Carolinians, select classes of drivers face stricter BAC levels. These include:
- Drivers of commercial vehicles. Operators of buses, semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles can be charged with DWI upon registering a BAC of .08 percent or greater.
- Motorists under age 21. People who are not of legal drinking age must observe North Carolina’s zero tolerance policy. Subject to a BAC limit of .00 percent, a driver under 21 can be arrested and charged on suspicion of DWI for having any trace of alcohol in his or her system.
Regardless of what class a driver is from, motorists who are ultimately convicted on driving while impaired charges face severe punishments that could include fines, jail time, loss of a driver’s license and other penalties.
Ignition Interlock Requirements In North Carolina
Another punishment that a person convicted to DWI could face is mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). This piece of equipment prevents a person from starting a vehicle if a breath test reveals alcohol in a person’s system.
An IID typically must be installed when:
- A person is found to be guilty of an aggravated DWI offense, including when a BAC is .15 percent or greater
- An individual is convicted of a second offense, regardless of a BAC reading
It’s important to understand that ignition interlock devices must be installed and monitored at the convicted individual’s expense. Additionally, IIDs must be put on every owned vehicle.
North Carolina DUI Penalties
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.