A North Carolina DWI is a complex offense. While the nature of the crime is always the same – driving under the influence of alcohol – it is the courts that determine how severe a particular violation is.

breathalyzerCertain mitigating factors might make the sentence lighter, such as:

  • A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) on the lower side
  • A good driving record
  • Otherwise safe driving at time of incident
  • Voluntary submission to assessment and/or treatment

However, there are also aggravating factors that will weigh against the offender:

  • A high BAC
  • Prior convictions of other non-impairment related offenses
  • Reckless driving at time of incident
  • Attempt to evade arrest
  • Speeding

Finally, there are what are called grossly aggravating factors, which garner stiff sentences:

  • Prior DWI offenses
  • DWI committed while license was suspended
  • Having a minor in the vehicle during the offense.

The judge will take into account these mitigating and aggravating factors, and decide which of five levels of punishment is appropriate.

Level 5

(No aggravating factors, possibly some mitigating factors)

  • Fine up to $200, Jail 24 hours to 60 days, 6 months – 1 year suspension

Level 4

(Some aggravating factors balanced by mitigating factors)

Fine up to $500, jail 2 to 120 days, 6 months – 1 year suspension

Level 3

(Some aggravating factors but no grossly aggravating factors, and some mitigating factors)

  • Fine up to $1000, jail 3 days – 6 months, 6 months – 1 year suspension

Level 2

(Grossly aggravating factor, though not a minor riding in the vehicle at the time of arrest)

  • Fine up to $2000, jail 1 week – 1 year, DWI assessment

 Level 1

(Two grossly aggravating factors or a minor child in vehicle at time of arrest)

  • Fine up to $10,000, jail 1 year – 3 years without parole.

For all of these levels, it is likely that a DWI assessment and attendance at a DWI School will be required. Probation is also a possibility.

There probation conditions which can allow offenders to substitute probation for jail time. In some cases an offender can reinstate driving privileges by having an ignition interlock installed. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

While the degrees of severity and punishment varies for a DWI in North Carolina, what does not change is the fact that drunk driving is a preventable offense, and most states in the US are committed to coming as close to wiping it out as they can. More severe punishments, wider education, and increased adoption of ignition interlocks for first offenders have helped reduce dramatically the numbers of alcohol-related deaths in recent years.

We hope you never find yourself in the position of needing a mitigating factors to escape a heavy sentence. And if you don’t drink and drive, you never will.

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