North Carolina uses a sliding scale (Levels 1-5) for DWI punishments based on mitigating and aggravating factors. Level 5 incurs the lowest punishments and Level 1 triggers the most punitive fines and incarceration. (There is also an aggravated Level 1). Most first offense DWI punishments in North Carolina are typically categorized as Levels 3 through 5 (though occasionally a first offense may rise to Level 1).
- A first offense typically results in an administrative license suspension of 30 days (with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days).
- Refusals to submit result in a mandatory automatic license suspension; for a first offense refusal to submit in North Carolina, the suspension is for 1 year.
- The reinstatement of a license is contingent upon completion of an alcohol/substance abuse assessment and awareness program with the possibility of an ignition interlock device installation upon reinstatement.
Criminal penalties vary widely, based on the courts' categorization of offenders' cases, again ranging from Level 1 to level 5. For most first offenders--save for the grossly aggravating factor of there being a minor child present in the vehicle at the time of arrest, or aggravating factor of BAC .15--North Carolina does not impose mandatory incarceration for first offenders, but the potential of incarceration ranges. A judge can sentence a Level 5 offender to 1 to 60 days but might suspend such sentence in lieu of 24 hours community service. The incarceration sentence of any level 3 through 5 offense may be suspended if the offender participates in community service, if such service is approved by the court. A judge can sentence a Level 1A (three aggravating factors) first offender to between 12 and 36 months.
Fines also range widely, from $200 to $1000 for level 3 through 5 offenses. These fine amounts do not include costs incurred during the completion of a sentence or in the license reinstatement process.
Convictions in North Carolina can influence charging and sentencing in future DWI cases for a period of 7 years.
Getting Legal Help
State statutes do not expressly prohibit reduction of DWI charges into convictions of lesser criminal offenses. As in all states, defendants are free to actively seek dismissals of DWI charges or negotiate favorable plea agreements. Legal representation is often essential for a favorable outcome in this process. Consult with a North Carolina lawyer experienced in representing individuals charged with first DWI offenses to learn more.