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North Carolina DWI Arrest and Court Process



When you are arrested for drunk driving in North Carolina, the case will follow a basic outline. Keep in mind, however, that different police agencies, counties and courts handle cases slightly differently. The information below is here to familiarize you with the terminology used and the general process. For specifics about how your case will be handled, contact an experienced North Carolina DWI attorney who has direct experience in the county and court where your case will be heard.

North Carolina DWI Arrest Process

When a driver is stopped by a police officer for any reason, the officer will begin looking for signs that the driver is under the influence. These might include slurred speech, alcohol on the driver’s breath or clothes, or the results of a portable breath test. If the officer believes that there’s a good reason to think the driver is under the influence, the officer will arrest him or her.

After anyone charged with a crime in North Carolina is arrested, the police officers who arrest him or her are required to inform him or her of the charges against him or her and bring the defendant before a judge or magistrate. Typically, this must be done within 48 hours of the arrest, but there is an exception if the State can demonstrate that unusual or emergency circumstances require a longer time.

In North Carolina, the police may choose to release defendants who are charged with misdemeanor offenses or infractions with a citation. If a prosecuting attorney believes the citation does not merit prosecution, he or she may dismiss the charge. The citation will contain the charge against the defendant and a promise to appear in court when called as well as additional criminal penalties which will be imposed if the defendant does not appear.

North Carolina Drunk Driving Pretrial Court Process

When the defendant first appears in court, the judge or magistrate will first tell the defendant about the charges facing him or her and the punishments that are possible for a conviction as well as the right to a public defender or court-appointed attorney for all of the proceedings starting with the initial appearance and extending through trial to an appeal. If the judicial officer is a judge, they may also conduct a preliminary cause hearing at the same time. If not, the judicial officer will send the case to a judge to conduct that hearing.

In the preliminary hearing, the court will conduct an examination to determine whether a crime has been committed and whether the defendant is probably guilty of that crime. At this proceeding, the State will present witnesses and evidence which the defendant can challenge or refute with witnesses or evidence of his or her own. If the court concludes that the defendant probably is guilty of the crime he or she is charged with, the defendant will have to plead guilty or go to trial.

If the defendant is charged with a felony, the case will go to a superior court, but if the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor, the case may go to a district court instead.

If the defendant hasn’t already been released, it’s usually at this point that the court will consider whether to release the defendant on bail before the trial. Bail will probably be granted in DUI cases in North Carolina, but the court can require various things from the defendant before allowing him or her to be released on bail, ranging from a promise to appear (which is known as “release upon one’s own recognizances”) to restrictions on the defendant’s behavior, to a bond which the defendant must forfeit to the court if he or she fails to appear when called.

If the defendant requests a formal arraignment, he or she will go before a judge to hear an official reading of the charges and to enter a plea. If the defendant does not request this procedure, he or she will be assumed to have plead not guilty. If there is an arraignment and the defendant hasn’t yet consulted an attorney and wishes to do so, the court will allow him or her an opportunity to do so before accepting the plea. The defendant must plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charges. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will go to trial.

North Carolina DWI/DUI Trial Process

Superior courts always have jury trials for criminal offenses. District courts do not have jury trials, but the defendant always has the right to appeal a verdict from a district court to a superior court with a jury for a new trial. This appeal must be made within 10 days of the district court’s verdict and that verdict is automatically canceled if the defendant makes an appeal. The jury will consist of 12 people and they must all agree on a verdict. Trial begins with the selection of the jury from a panel of potential jurors and the defendant may participate in the process of selecting them. Once the jury is selected and sworn, both the prosecution and the defense will give an opening statement. The State will present its witnesses and evidence, and the defense may challenge the State’s case by cross-examining State witnesses. The defense may put on a case of its own or may rely on the burden on the prosecution to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.