Depending on an individual’s legal strategy, a DWI conviction may occur after a loss at trial or after entering a guilty plea. However, in either situation, a person is facing a DWI conviction, which carries with it a variety of issues and consequences. This process can be very stressful and daunting for clients. In this article, I will try to clarify and explain your options and what to expect in the event of a DWI conviction in Wilmington, NC.
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:
- 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);
- The person’s driver’s license is revoked for a prior DWI as of the arrest date for the present offense;
- The driver caused serious injury; or
- The driver had:
- A passenger under the age of 18 years in the car;
- A passenger with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years in the car; or
- A passenger with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle.
Aggravating Factors to Be Weighed
The following are aggravating factors:
- Gross impairment (BAC of 0.15 or higher);
- Especially reckless or dangerous driving;
- Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident that involved either injury or property damage exceeding $1000.00;
- Driving with a revoked license;
- A poor driving history;
- A prior DWI conviction that occurred more than 7 years before the charge date;
- 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;
- Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.
Mitigating Factors to Be Weighed
The following are mitigating factors:
- Slight impairment (BAC of .09 or less);
- Safe and lawful driving at the time of the offense except for being impaired;
- A safe driving record within the past five years;
- Impairment was caused by a lawfully prescribed drug taken within the prescribed dosage;
- Defendant obtained an alcohol assessment after the present DWI arrest but prior to the conviction date of the present DWI;
- 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.
Here’s a handy infographic that shows some of the challenges one can face after receiving a DWI conviction in North Carolina.
One of the most serious consequences of a DWI conviction is the possibility of jail time. In North Carolina, a DWI conviction at the highest sentencing level can result in up to three years in jail. However, for most first time offenders, any jail sentence is typically suspended in favor of court mandated community service. For repeat offenders however, the possibility of jail time is likely.
A large issue that is a byproduct of a DWI conviction is license revocation. Under North Carolina law, a first-time DWI conviction immediately causes the loss of driving privileges for a period of one year. Although this revocation is non-negotiable upon conviction, it can be somewhat mitigated by applying for a Limited Driving Privilege, which allows the individual to drive during certain hours for purposes like school or work. However, for a second offender, a DWI conviction carries with it an automatic four-year revocation and no possibility of a Limited Driving Privilege.
Fines and Costs
An often overlooked, but substantial part of a DWI conviction are the fines and costs associated with it. In North Carolina, a DWI conviction depends on the sentencing level the individual is at, but can range from a maximum fine of $200 to $10,000. These fines must typically be paid immediately upon conviction. Additionally, on top of the fines, the judge can (and likely will) impose a special DWI fee of $100 and court costs of $190.
One of the most serious financial consequences of a DWI conviction is the dramatic increase in the cost of car insurance. Under North Carolina law, a DWI conviction carries 12 insurance points. Because of this, insurance companies are allowed to increase your rates up to 400% for a period of up to three years (as long as no additional points for other offenses are obtained). Additionally, a driver with a DWI conviction on their record will be considered a high risk driver and may be dropped from their insurance carrier all together.
Minick Law founder and “NC DWI Guy” Attorney James Minick interviews Asheville insurance Center‘s Lee Barrett about the variety of ways that a DWI can impact your NC auto insurance policy.
Questions covered in this interview include:
- How does a DWI affect your insurance premium?
- What is the MVR report?
- Will an out of state DWI affect your insurance differently?
- Can an insurance company drop you after a DWI?
- Once you’re considered “High Risk” by an auto insurer, what happens?
- How can a DWI affect the other types of insurance policies you have?
- Can a DWI affect your homeowners or renters insurance?
- How long does it take for a DWI to show up on your MVR?
- What is the DL-123 form and how is it affected by a DWI?
- Will some insurers offer reasonable rates for someone with a DWI?
- How and when should someone plan for insurance changes after a DWI?
- Does it make sense to pursue separate polices for families or couples due to rate increases following a DWI?
- Should you switch policies or insurers after receiving a DWI?
- Can an insurance company increase your rates after you’ve been charged with DWI?
- If someone has an accident and is charged with DWI, can your rate increase ahead of the DWI conviction?
- If someone is an accident, and charged with DWI, and their car is totaled, can a person apply for new insurance with a revoked drivers license?
- How long will someone see a rate increase on their insurance following a DWI?
- How and when does an insurance company receive notification of a DWI from the DMV?
- If you drive as part of your job, how does your DWI affect your employers commercial insurance?
- Will your employer be notified of the reason that their premium went up after an employee receives a DWI?
Assessment and Treatment
When a judge finds an individual guilty of DWI, part of the conviction requires the individual to obtain a substance abuse assessment and to complete all required treatment. Under North Carolina law, an assessment costs $100. After this assessment, a recommended course of treatment is outlined and must be completed. This treatment can cost anywhere from $25-$50 an hour. Click for more information on Alcohol Assessments and Treatment.
If you have recently been convicted of DWI, or have current DWI charges, it is vitally important that you speak with an experienced Attorney who understands how best to defend these charges in court. At Minick Law, our Wilmington DWI attorneys are standing by to discuss your case, and see how we can help. Call Today (910) 300-9995