Second-Offense DWI in North Carolina

Read about the administrative and criminal penalties for a second-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. Any prior DWI convictions are considered aggravating factors that will increase the seriousness of the charge.

The article covers the penalties for a second-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 facing DWI offenders is the revocation of the offender's driver's license. 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 of a second DWI within a three-year period, the offender's driver's license is revoked for four years. The offender may petition the court for a limited driving privilege, which will allow the offender to drive under limited circumstances, such as for work, and only during certain times. However, for offenders sentenced at either Level II or Level I, there's no limited driving privilege available. As a condition of license reinstatement, the offender must complete a drug and alcohol assessment and treatment as required by the court.

Second-time offenders are also required to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed on their vehicles prior to license reinstatement. The IID requires the driver to blow into a machine that will read the driver's breath alcohol before the car will start. The offender must pay for the installation and monthly service charges for the device.

Additionally, offenders who are arrested for a second DWI while their license was revoked for a prior impaired driving conviction may face immediate vehicle seizure. This seizure happens at the time of arrest, rather than after the case goes to trial. If the offender is later convicted of the second DWI and the judge determines the offense was committed while the driver's license was revoked for an impaired driving conviction, the vehicle will be forfeited to the local school board.

Criminal Penalties

The punishments DWI offenders face depend on the classification level of the offense. Most second-offense DWIs are classified at level III, II, or I. North Carolina uses aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the sentencing level. Prior DWI convictions are considered aggravating factors. An offender who's convicted of a second DWI anytime within seven years of the first DWI conviction will, at a minimum, be sentenced as a level II offender.

Jail time. North Carolina law specifies minimum and maximum jail sentences for 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. In general, a standard second-offense DWI in North Carolina carries fines ranging from $1,000 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 with 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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