North Carolina Aggravated DUI

Aggravating factors when charged with a DUI in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, as in all states, it’s a crime to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. If arrested and convicted for this crime, judges typically apply a set of minimum and maximum sentencing guidelines. When determining the sentence, judges and prosecutors commonly weigh mitigating and aggravating factors.

What are mitigating factors?

Mitigating factors reduce the punishment because they may explain or excuse the bad behavior. For example, if impairment was the result of a lawfully prescribed medication, or the driver had an otherwise spotless North Carolina driving record and the driver’s .BAC just barely cracked .08, or the driver has voluntarily completed a substance abuse program, courts and prosecutors may be more inclined to apply a minimum rather than a maximum sentence.

What are typical aggravating factors?

On the other hand, if there are aggravating factors present, prosecutors and courts are less likely to provide a lenient sentence. This may be for two reasons: public pressure in higher-profile DUI arrests and state laws requiring stiffer sentences. DUIs are a hot button issue for elected (and appointed officials) and the days when a judge or prosecutor could sweep a terrible DUI accident off the record have faded away in most jurisdictions. At the same time, recognizing that not all DUIs are the same, lobbying groups such as M.A.D.D. have applied to state legislatures to build aggravating factors into the law. Typically aggravating factors include prior DUI convictions, reckless driving or speeding, driving while a license is suspended, causing serious personal injury to another person, or a DUI arrest with a child present (ages defining a child vary from state to state)

North Carolina’s approach

North Carolina uses a variation on aggravating factors, classifying some as “grossly aggravating” and some as simply, “aggravating.” The system works as follows:

Grossly Aggravating

The grossly aggravating factors of a DWI in North Carolina present the most serious of aggravating circumstances involved in a DWI as it relates to punishment. If a driver is found to have two of these grossly aggravating factors when arrested for a DWI they can expect a "Level One Punishment". If a driver has one grossly aggravating factor they can expect a "Level Two Punishment". If three grossly aggravated factors are present -- Level 1A (see “Laura’s Law”) the driver is subject to a minimum of 12 months jail time (maximum 36 months)

Grossly Aggravating Factors

  • prior DWI conviction within 7 years
  • DWI while license is suspended for a previous DWI
  • serious injury to another person while DWI
  • child under 18 in vehicle while DWI

Level One Punishment

  • Jail – From 30 Days to 24 Months
  • Fine – Up to $4,000

Level Two Punishment

Level two punishment is applied to a North Carolina DWI conviction that has one grossly aggravating factor.

  • Jail – 7 Days to 12 Months
  • Fine – Up to $2,000

North Carolina Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

Assuming there are no "Grossly Aggravating Factors" involved a judge is left to weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the fate of the convicted.

Aggravating Factors

  • blood alcohol level of .15 or above
  • reckless driving / accident
  • driver license revoked
  • prior convictions for dwi
  • speeding while attempting to elude officers
  • speeding 30 mph over the legal limit
  • passing a school bus illegally

Mitigating Factors

  • slight impairment where test was unavailable
  • safe driving record
  • alcohol concentration did not exceed .09
  • driving lawfully (except for impairment) at time of offense
  • impaired by prescribed dosage of legal medication
  • voluntary submission to mental heath facility for assessment

Considering the aggravating and mitigating factors above the judge will apparently make a ruling on the DWI offender using the following outline:

  • If aggravating factors substantially outnumber mitigating factors the judge may punish the convicted using Level 3 Punishment.
  • If there are no aggravating or mitigating factors or the two factors are balanced the convicted may be sentenced to Level 4 Punishment.
  • If the mitigating factors substantially outnumber aggravating factors then the convicted may receive Level 5 Punishment.

Seek an attorney’s advice

Although many DUIs can be handled without the assistance of an attorney, an attorney’s counsel is strongly recommended if arrested for a DUI with aggravating factors (such as an elevated BAC). That’s because when aggravating factors are present, the penalties are so much more severe and the effects can stay with you for much longer than a typical North Carolina DUI. 

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