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According to an NIH study, one-quarter of adults in the US engaged in binge drinking last month. Alcohol use disorder, over-drinking habitually, affects 14.5 million in the US. However, even casual drinkers out having a few glasses of wine with friends may develop a BAC over .08. Let’s look at what happens when you face North Carolina DWI charges.

What DWI Means in NC

In North Carolina, a DWI means driving while intoxicated. Often, alcohol is the drug of choice. However, this law also covers driving while taking any drug or substance that makes you high. You could face DWI charges and arrest for prescription medications, marijuana, or other drugs. Officers may also order chemical tests for the presence of these other substances.

Any of these listed situations below may result in a DWI charge:

  • Refusal to take an Intoxilyzer test (refusal also results in automatic license revocation for up to one year)
  • BAC results of 0.08 or more 
  • Results of 0.04 if you are a commercial motor vehicle driver
  • Reasonable suspicion of other impairing substance abuse
  • Under the age of 21 and BAC results or other chemical tests show any level of alcohol or other illegal substances in your system

If charged with DWI, the DMV automatically revokes your driver’s license for at least 30 days. If you need your license for work or childcare, it is sometimes possible to get a limited driving privilege after ten days. 

Is DWI a Misdemeanor?

The law provides six levels of misdemeanor-level DWI charges. These levels include:

  • V: a fine of up to $200 and 24 hrs to 60 days in jail. A judge may suspend the sentence after 24 hours in jail if you perform 24 hours of community service or do not operate a vehicle for 30 days.
  • IV: a fine of up to $500 and 48 hrs to 120 days in jail. A judge may suspend the sentence after 48 hours in jail if you perform 48 hours of community service or do not operate a vehicle for 60 days.
  • III: a fine of up to $1000 and 72 hours to six months in jail. A judge may suspend the sentence after 72 hours in jail if you perform 72 hours of community service or do not operate a vehicle for 90 days.
  • II: a fine of up to $2,000 and 7 days to one year in jail. A judge cannot suspend the minimum sentence.
  • I: a fine of up to $4,000 and 30 days to two years in jail. A judge cannot suspend the minimum sentence.
  • Aggravated Level I: a fine up to $10,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 12 months up to 3 years. A judge cannot suspend the minimum sentence. Most sentenced under this Level are not eligible for parole.

It is unusual to get aggravated Level 1, Level I, or Level II charges unless you are:

  • A repeat DWI offender
  • Driving with your license revoked
  • Transporting young children while impaired
  • You hurt someone in a crash while impaired

Underage DWI

If you are a young person under the age of 21, there is a different legal standard. Any amount of alcohol in your blood while driving can result in an immediate 30-day loss of your driver’s license. 

If you refuse to take a breathalyzer test and the officer smells alcohol on your breath, you can still face a DWI charge. In this case, you could lose your license for one year. 

It is sometimes possible to get your license back with limited driving privileges if you were at least 18 years old at the DWI with no prior convictions.

What to Do If Arrested

If arrested, don’t speak to law enforcement about what you’ve done. Law enforcement agencies train police about how to encourage confessions. Let the law enforcement officers know that you will cooperate, but do not speak about your actions. Do not resist arrest or argue with police about anything at the scene.

You will likely take a ride to the police station for more testing. Possible responses to questions they ask include:

  • “I wish to cooperate, but can’t talk about what happened without my attorney here.”
  • “I want to cooperate with law enforcement, but I can’t sign anything without my attorney present.”
  • “Officer, I understand that you’re arresting me and I am cooperating with you. However, I can’t answer your questions without my attorney present.”

Law enforcement must let you know that:

  • You can refuse the breathalyzer. However, if you do, you will lose your license for a year. 
  • You have the right to independent alcohol testing after law enforcement releases you. 
  • If you score a BAC of .08% or higher, you will lose your license for at least 30 days.
  • You have the right to contact an attorney. 
  • You have the right to contact a witness to observe testing.

Legal Defense

With an experienced criminal defense attorney, there are many options available to defend yourself against a DWI charge. Depending on the circumstances of your arrest and any proof against you, charges may often be reduced or dismissed. 

Legal defenses can include these and many more:

  • Unlawful search and seizures
  • “Proof” of drug use that does not prove drug use: An example would be an officer arresting you based on smelling marijuana even though hemp is legal and smells like marijuana
  • Lack of reasonable suspicion when stopping you: Legally, a law enforcement officer may only require a test from you if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are driving while impaired. Stopping you for routine roadside testing may not hold up in court. In this case, law enforcement has stopped you without any reasonable suspicion. If you are stopped and tested at a checkpoint, always contact your attorney immediately.
  • Officers not advising you of your rights
  • Officers who detain you without reasonable cause and refuse your rights to a witness or attorney

We Can Help

At Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna, our criminal defense attorneys can help if police arrest you for DWI. We understand that many cases of DWI arrest will not hold up in a court of law. Often, negotiation with the prosecutor can bring about reduced or dismissed charges, depending on your circumstances. We look at your constitutional rights and investigate your case thoroughly to give you the best outcome. Our experience in and out of the courtroom brings an unprecedented level of legal competence to your case. Contact us today and see how we can help you keep moving forward. 

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