The NC DWI Guy

James K. Minick
The NC DWI Guy

Driving While Impaired (DWI) is one of the few charges in North Carolina that has its own sentencing structure (i.e. punishment structure).  N.C.G.S. § 20-179.  When imposing punishment on a DWI case in North Carolina, the judge must consider the presence of: (1) Grossly Aggravating Factors; (2) Aggravating Factors; and (3) Mitigating Factors.

Grossly Aggravating Factors

The following are grossly aggravating factors:

  1. A prior DWI conviction within seven years of the arrest date on the present offense (Note: Each prior conviction is a separate grossly aggravating factor);
  2. The person’s driver’s license is revoked for a prior DWI as of the arrest date for the present offense;
  3. The driver caused serious injury; or
  4. The driver had:
    1. A passenger under the age of 18 years in the car;
    2. A passenger with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years in the car; or
    3. A passenger with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle.

Aggravating Factors to Be Weighed

The following are aggravating factors:

  1. Gross impairment (BAC of 0.15 or higher);
  2. Especially reckless or dangerous driving;
  3. Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident that involved either injury or property damage exceeding $1000.00;
  4. Driving with a revoked license;
  5. A poor driving history;
  6. A prior DWI conviction that occurred more than 7 years before the charge date;
  7. Driving by the defendant at the time of the DWI charge including either (1) speeding while fleeing or attempting to elude arrest, (2) speeding in excess of 30 miles per hour over the speed limit, or (3) passing a stopped school bus;
  8. Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

Mitigating Factors to Be Weighed

The following are mitigating factors:

  1. Slight impairment (BAC of .09 or less);
  2. Safe and lawful driving at the time of the offense except for being impaired;
  3. A safe driving record within the past five years;
  4. Impairment was caused by a lawfully prescribed drug taken within the prescribed dosage;
  5. Defendant obtained an alcohol assessment after the present DWI arrest but prior to the conviction date of the present DWI;
  6. Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the DWI.

Determining Sentencing Level

The following levels of punishment are available for a DWI:

Aggravated Level 1 – The judge must impose the Aggravated Level One punishment if three or more grossly aggravating factors apply.

Level 1 – The judge must impose the Level One punishment if it is determined that: (1) there is a passenger under 18 in the vehicle, or (2) any other two grossly aggravating factors apply.

Level 2 – The judge must impose the Level Two punishment if it is determined that only one of the grossly aggravating factors applies.

Level 3 – If there are no grossly aggravating factors, but there are more aggravating factors than mitigating factors, then Level 3 punishment is imposed.

Level 4 – If there are no grossly aggravating factors, and the same number of aggravating and mitigating factors, then Level 4 punishment is imposed.

Level 5 – If mitigating factors outweigh aggravating factors, then Level 5, the least harsh punishment, is imposed.

Aggravated Level One DWI Punishment NC

This punishment level has a maximum fine of up to $10,000.00 and a maximum jail sentence of three (3) years.  The minimum suspended sentence (probationary sentence) for this punishment level is 120 days.

Level One DWI Punishment NC

This punishment level has a maximum fine of up to $4,000.00 and a maximum jail sentence of two (2) years.  The minimum suspended sentence (probationary sentence) for this punishment level is 30 days in custody.

Level Two DWI Punishment NC

This punishment level has a maximum fine of up to $2,000.00 and a maximum jail sentence of one (1) year.  The minimum suspended sentence (probationary sentence) for this punishment level is 7 days in custody.

Level Three DWI Punishment NC

This punishment level has a maximum fine of up to $1,000.00 and a maximum jail sentence of six (6) months.  The minimum suspended sentence (probationary sentence) for this punishment level is: (1) 72 hours of community service, or three (3) days in custody.

Level Four DWI Punishment NC

This punishment level has a maximum fine of up to $500.00 and a maximum jail sentence of one hundred and twenty (120) days.  The minimum suspended sentence (probationary sentence) for this punishment level is: (1) 48 hours of community service, or two (2) days in custody.

Level Five DWI Punishment NC

This punishment level has a maximum fine of up to $200.00 and a maximum jail sentence of sixty (60) days.  The minimum suspended sentence (probationary sentence) for this punishment level is: (1) 24 hours of community service, or one (1) day in custody.

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