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North Carolina DWI Penalties & Punishments



North Carolina has a complex criminal sentencing scheme. Below are the basics. We strongly encourage you to consult with a qualified North Carolina DWI lawyer to find out what you may face in your case.

North Carolina DWI Sentencing Levels

North Carolina uses a system of aggravating and mitigating factors relating to the circumstances of a driver’s conduct when they were driving impaired.  Depending on which factors apply and whether the aggravating or mitigating factors predominate, someone convicted of either Impaired Driving or Impaired Driving of a Commercial Vehicle in North Carolina can be sentenced to 5 levels of punishment.

Level 1 (Most severe)
Fine: Up to $4,000.  Imprisonment: At least 30 days but no more than 2 years, with the possibility of probation after the initial 30 days.

Level 2
Fine: Up to $2,000.  Imprisonment: At least 7 days but no more than 1 year, with the possibility of probation after the initial 7 days.

Level 3
Fine: Up to $1,000.  Imprisonment: At least 3 days but no more than 6 months.  However, the judge may place the defendant on probation and allow the defendant to serve the 3 day minimum as community service instead of being imprisoned.

Level 4
Fine: Up to $500.  Imprisonment: At least 2 days but no more than 4 months.  However, the judge may place the defendant on probation and allow the defendant to serve the 2 day minimum as community service instead of being imprisoned.

Level 5 (Least severe)
Fine: Up to $200.  Imprisonment: At least 1 day but no more than 2 months.  However, the judge may place the defendant on probation and allow the defendant to serve the 1 day minimum as community service instead of being imprisoned.
Source: Chapter 20 (Motor Vehicles) 20-179

Grossly Aggravating Factors:

If the court finds that at least 2 of these factors apply, the court is required to impose Level 1 punishment.  If the court finds that 1 of these factors applies, it is required to impose Level 2 punishment.
1. The driver had been convicted of impaired driving within the last 7 years.
2. The driver was driving with a license which had been revoked because of impaired driving at the time of the offense.
3. The driver caused serious injury to another person by driving impaired.
4. The driver drove while impaired and while there was a child under 16 in the vehicle.
Source: Chapter 20 (Motor Vehicles) 20-179 (c)

Other aggravating factors and mitigating factors:

If the court finds that these aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors in the case, the court must impose Level 3 punishment.  If the court finds that these aggravating factors are outweighed by the the mitigating factors in the case, the court must impose Level 5 punishment.  If the court finds both these aggravating factors and the mitigating factors are equally balanced, the court must impose Level 4 punishment.

Aggravating factors:

1. The driver had a BAC of at least 0.15 at the time.
2. The driver was driving in an especially dangerous way.
3. Careless driving that led to an accident
4. The driver was driving with a license that was revoked for any reason except for prior impaired driving.
5. At least 2 prior convictions for driving offenses other than impaired driving within the last 5 years.
6. The driver sped to avoid arrest.
7. The driver sped by more than 30 miles per hour.
8. The driver passed a stopped school bus illegally
9. Some other factor that the court decides makes the offense more serious.
Source: Chapter 20 (Motor Vehicles) 20-179 (d)

Mitigating factors:

1. The driver was only slightly impaired and had a BAC at or below 0.09 or else could not have their BAC tested.
2. The driver was driving safely and legally other than the impairment.
3. The driver has not committed a traffic offense which could have been punished with a license suspension or at least 4 points in the last 5 years.
4. The driver was mostly impaired because of a legal drug which the driver took in the proper dose.
5. The driver willingly agrees to report for psychological screening, and if recommended, to go through a substance abuse treatment program.
6. The driver has completed a substance abuse treatment program which includes a 2 month period in which the driver has not consumed alcohol and has been monitored in a State-approved manner to ensure compliance.
7. Some other factor that the court decides makes the offense less serious.
Source: Chapter 20 (Motor Vehicles) 20-179 (e)

Habitual impaired driving:

If the driver has been convicted at least 3 times of impaired driving offenses within the last 10 years, then a further conviction for impaired driving will also subject the driver to punishment for Habitual Impaired Driving.  This is punished as a Class F felony, with a minimum prison sentence of 1 year which may not be suspended.  The driver’s license to drive is also permanently revoked and the vehicle in which the offense was committed may be forfeited to the State.

Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle:

Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle is punished as a Class F felony, which means that in the typical case the sentence would vary between 13 and 40 months, depending on the number and severity of the defendant’s prior convictions.

Felony Death by Vehicle:

Felony Death by Vehicle is punished as a Class E felony, which means that that in the typical case the sentence would vary between 20 and 60 months, depending on the number and severity of the defendant’s prior convictions.

Driving by person less than 21 years old after consuming alcohol or drugs:

Driving by person less than 21 years old after consuming alcohol or drugs is punished as a Class 2 misdemeanor, which means that that in the typical case the sentence would vary between 1 and 60 days, depending on the number and severity of the defendant’s prior convictions.

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