Penalties for First Offense DWI in NC

There is a range of potential penalties for a first offense DUI / DWI charge that results in a conviction in North Carolina, including both administrative (DMV/driving) repercussions and criminal penalties.  For a complete understanding of the potential penalties in a specific DWI case in Raleigh or surrounding areas, you should consult with a Raleigh DWI lawyer, who can evaluate the facts of an individual case, the accused’s background, and identify potential aggravating or mitigating factors that may affect the outcome.  What follows is a brief overview of some general guidelines.

Non-Criminal/”Administrative” Repercussions of a First DWI Conviction

At the outset, upon simply being charged with a DWI in North Carolina, you can expect to lose your driving privilege immediately.  If you take a breath test and register a .08 BAC or higher, the initial suspension will be for 30 days.  In some cases, after the first 10 days you may be eligible to petition the court for a pre-trial limited driving privilege for purposes such as work and school.  A $100 fee is required to restore the driving privilege at the end of 30 days, and a $100 fee is also required to file a petition to restore it earlier.

Refusal to take a blood/breath test on a first offense will result in an automatic suspension of your license, under the implied consent law.  In case of a refusal on a first offense, you can expect a 1-year suspension of your license, with the potential for a limited driving privilege after six months.  North Carolina also imposes a 1-year suspension of your driver’s license following a first-offense DWI conviction, but with an opportunity to petition the Court for a limited driving privilege during the period of suspension.

Other administrative requirements may include a substance abuse assessment and completion of any treatment recommended as a result.

Criminal Penalties for a First Offense DWI Conviction

In addition to the administrative repercussions described above, there will also be criminal penalties for a first offense DWI.  Criminal penalties may include jail time, fines, and community service.

Sentencing/punishment for DWIs in North Carolina will fall into one of six levels: Aggravated Level 1, and Levels 1 through 5, with Aggravated Level 1 being the most severe and 5 being the most lenient.  The presence or absence of “aggravating factors,” as well as mitigating factors, will be central to the determination of the appropriate sentencing level.

Aggravating factors are categorized into “grossly aggravating” and simply “aggravating.”  Grossly aggravating factors include, for example, the presence of a minor child (under 18) in the vehicle at the time of the offense (which triggers mandatory Level 1 Punishment), an accident causing serious injury to another person at the time of the offense, or a prior DWI conviction in the previous seven years.  Aggravating factors include, for example, “gross impairment” of the defendant’s faculties while driving or a BAC of 0.15 or higher, “especially reckless” or dangerous driving, negligent driving that led to a reportable accident, driving while the defendant’s license was revoked, and others.

Mitigating factors to be weighed against any aggravating factors include low BAC (generally .08 or .09), safe driving record for the previous five years, voluntary submission to treatment, driving at the time was safe and lawful except for the impairment, and others.

If no aggravating factors are present, or if mitigating factors outweigh any aggravating factors, then a first DWI conviction should result in sentencing under Level 5.  Sentencing under Levels 3-5 permit that any jail time imposed may be suspended, whereas some period of jail time is required for sentencing under all higher levels.

For Level 5 punishment, the most lenient, a defendant may be fined up to $200 and “shall” be sentenced to a term of imprisonment that includes a minimum of 24 hours and a maximum of 60 days, but that 24-hour jail imprisonment term may be suspended (that is, not actually served) under certain circumstances.

At the opposite extreme, under an Aggravated Level 1 punishment, a defendant may be fined up to $10,000 and will be subject to a minimum of 12 months in jail and a maximum of 36 months.  Under Aggravated Level 1, the first 120 days of jail time must be served, but the remainder can be suspended under some circumstances.

In short, the sentencing analysis for a first offense DWI is fairly complicated, and if you’re facing a DWI charge, you’d be well served to consult with a Raleigh DWI lawyer to get a clear sense of what you may be facing in your own case.

Posted by DWI lawyer, Raleigh, NC Ben Hiltzheimer

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this website are provided for informational purposes only, and are not intended for the purpose of providing legal advice.  To the extent that the law is discussed, the discussion should be treated as incomplete, with an understanding that critical details relating to any individual case may be omitted.  You should contact a locally licensed attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case, and should not rely on the contents of this website or any other in place of competent legal counsel.  Ben Hiltzheimer is licensed to practice law in North Carolina.



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