Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in North Carolina

What is considered drugged driving in North Carolina and the penalties for a conviction.

Like all states, North Carolina prohibits driving while impaired (DWI) by drugs or alcohol. However, the type and quantity of the drug can make a difference in the penalties for a conviction. This article will explain the different criminal charges and penalties that can result from driving after consuming drugs.

Types of Impairment

North Carolina's drugged driving laws are separated into two main types: driving under the influence of drugs and driving with a metabolized controlled substance.

Impairment DWI. A driver is considered to be under the influence if his or her faculties are considerably impaired. Officers are normally trained to use drug recognition tests to determine the type and extent of possible drug use. To prove an impairment DUI at trial, the prosecutor might use evidence like the officer's testimony, blood test results, and expert witness testimony related to drug impairment. An impairment DWI can be based on the consumption of any impairing substance.

Controlled substance DWI. A driver can also be convicted of a DWI for having any amount of metabolized schedule I controlled substance in his or her blood or urine. This list of substances includes street drugs like heroin and cocaine but also prescription drugs like opioids and benzos.

Prescription medications. The fact that a driver was legally entitled to use the drug or had a valid prescription is not a legal defense to a DWI charge. However, the court is allowed to consider the possession of a valid prescription as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

Criminal Penalties

The possible penalties for drugged driving are identical to those for drunk driving convictions and are based on aggravating and mitigating factors and the number of prior offenses in the last seven years. Gross aggravating factors include having a minor passenger, causing an injury, and having a prior DWI within the last seven years. Speeding and reckless driving are considered standard aggravating factors. Mitigating factors a judge is allowed to consider include enrolling in treatment and having a valid prescription for the drug ingested. The court will balance aggravating factors against mitigating factors in deciding how to sentence a driver for a DWI conviction.

First-offense. A first-offense DWI will generally carry 48 hours to 120 days in jail and a maximum $500 fine. The judge can place the offender on probation and order 48 hours of community service in lieu of jail time. The offender must also complete a substance abuse evaluation and complete the recommended treatment.

Second-offense. A DWI is considered a second offense if the driver has a prior DWI within the last seven years. A second-offense DWI generally carries seven days to 12 months in jail and up to $2,000 in fines. If the judge grants probation, the offender must participate in sobriety monitoring for 90 days, complete a substance abuse assessment and any recommended treatment, and may have to serve 240 hours of community service.

Driver's License Consequences

An impaired driving incident can result in a number of different driver's license penalties.

Implied consent and unlawful refusals. Under the state's implied consent law, drivers who are lawfully arrested for impaired driving are required by law to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test. An unlawful refusal will result in a mandatory one-year license revocation.

DWI convictions. A DWI conviction will also result in license suspension, but the length of the suspension depends on the number of prior offenses. A first DWI will result in a one-year revocation, while a second offense in three years carries a four-year revocation. A third offense results in permanent license revocation.

Restricted licenses. A revoked driver can usually apply to the court for a restricted license. However, a restricted license comes with certain restrictions and requirements.

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