First-Offense DWI in North Carolina

Read about the administrative and criminal penalties for a first-offense DWI in North Carolina.

North Carolina's DWI law prohibits driving or being in control of a vehicle while:

North Carolina is known as one of the toughest states on DWI 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 being the least serious.

The article covers the penalties for a first-offense DUI. For most purposes, a DUI is considered a "first offense" if the driver has no prior DUI convictions within the past seven years.

Administrative Penalties

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

First, any driver who is stopped on suspicion of DWI and refuses to submit to a breath test or has a BAC of .08% or higher is looking at immediate revocation for 30 days. An additional one-year revocation is imposed after the offender has an opportunity for a hearing (assuming the motorist either doesn't request or loses the hearing). Even if the driver isn't 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.

After being convicted, the offender's driver's license is revoked for one year. However, there's a limited driving privilege available after ten days, which allows the offender to drive only during certain hours for purposes such as work. As a condition for license reinstatement, the offender must complete a drug and alcohol assessment and treatment as required by the court.

Criminal Penalties

The punishments DWI offenders face depend on the classification level of the offense. Most first-offense DWIs are classified at level V, VI, or III.

Jail time. North Carolina law specifies minimum and maximum jail sentences for first-time DWI offenders–and the minimum jail sentence for even the least serious offense classification (level V) is 24 hours. The minimums, however, are somewhat misleading because the court can "suspend" the sentence for level V, IV, and III offenses—meaning the driver doesn't actually have to serve the time in jail. Here are the possible jail times corresponding to offense level:

  • Level V: 24 hours to 60 days
  • Level VI: 48 hours to 120 days
  • Level III: 72 hours to six months
  • Level II: Seven days to one year
  • Level I: 30 days to two years

Fines. A standard first-offense DWI in North Carolina carries fines ranging from $200 to $4,000. As with jail time, fine amounts are based on the level classification. Here are the maximum fines:

  • Level V: $200
  • Level VI: $500
  • Level III: $1,000
  • Level II: $2,000
  • Level I: $4,000

Probation. In some circumstances, a judge might suspend a DWI sentence and, instead, impose a term of probation. Conditions of probation often include jail time (to be served on a schedule set by the offender's probation officer), community service, and participation in a drug and alcohol evaluation program. However, the judge does not have the authority to sentence a level II or level I offender to probation in North Carolina.

Substance Abuse Assessment. All North Carolina impaired driving offenders must complete a substance abuse assessment and comply with any recommended treatment before their driver's license will be restored.

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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