Underage DWI in North Carolina

Read about the administrative and criminal penalties for underage DWI in North Carolina.

North Carolina’s underage DWI law prohibits underage motorists (persons under age 21) from driving a vehicle while:

  • consuming alcohol, or

  • having any amount of alcohol or controlled substances in the body (unless the controlled substance was lawfully obtained and is taken in prescribed amounts).

In other words, North Carolina has a zero-tolerance alcohol and drug policy for underage.

North Carolina is known as one of the toughest states on DWI offenders, especially underage offenders. North Carolina DWI offenders are sentenced based on a sliding scale. The scale includes five levels of misdemeanor DWI—level I being the most and level V the least serious. This article covers the penalties for underage DUI.

Administrative Penalties

Administrative penalties are those imposed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. These are entirely separate from any criminal penalties the offender may face if convicted in criminal court. The primary administrative penalty DWI offenders face is the license revocation. There are two types of revocation: a civil suspension at the time of arrest and a criminal suspension upon conviction.

Underage drivers who are charged with DWI will have their license immediately revoked for a period of 30 days. And North Carolina’s implied consent law applies to drivers under the age of 21. Therefore, as with adult offenders, an underage driver suspected of DWI is required to take a breath test when asked to do so by an officer. Underage drivers who refuse to take a breath test will lose their driving privileges for up to one year. Even if the driver isn’t later convicted in court, the one-year revocation remains in effect. With this type of suspension, a limited driving privilege may be granted only after a mandatory six-month revocation period.

Additionally, for underage drivers who refuse a breath test, the smell of alcohol on their breath is enough to be convicted of underage DWI. After conviction, an underage DWI offender’s license is revoked for at least one year. But a driver who was at least 18 years old at the time of the offense and has no prior DWI convictions can request limited driving privileges.

Criminal Penalties

Underage DWI and DWI are separate criminal charges. So, in certain situations, a person who’s under the age of 21 and driving and driving can be charged with both underage DWI and DWI. (Read about how North Carolina defines DWI and the penalties for a conviction.) However, if the offender is convicted of both charges, the judge doesn’t add the two sentences—the maximum penalties are those of the more serious of the two charges, DWI.

Underage DWI is a class 2 misdemeanor in North Carolina. A class 2 misdemeanor carries a maximum possible punishment of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Whether or not an offender receives jail time, and the amount of jail time itself, depends on whether or not the offender has a prior criminal record. As with all misdemeanor cases in North Carolina, the judge also has the discretion to place the offender on probation, and impose certain conditions such as a drug and alcohol assessment, recommended treatment, and community service.

Getting Legal Help

The consequences of DWI are serious. If you’ve been arrested or charged for DWI, you should talk to an experienced DWI attorney right away. A DWI attorney in your area can help you understand how the law applies to the facts of your case and advise you on what to do next. Depending on the circumstances of your case, an attorney might be able to negotiate a plea bargain for a lesser charge, such as “reckless driving.”

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