If you have been charged with DWI/DUI in North Carolina, there are a number of factors that can make the potential sentencing you are facing more serious. Perhaps the worst aggravating factor in North Carolina is having a child (a person under the age of 18 or with the mental development of a person under the age of 18) in the vehicle at the time of a driving. See N.C.G.S. § 20-179(c)(4).
Any person charged after December 1, 2011, that has a person under the age of 18 in the vehicle with them, is automatically looking at a Level 1 punishment. Level 1 punishment carries with it a maximum of 2 years in jail (a minimum of 30 days), and a fine of up to $4,000.00. Any person convicted of a Level 1 DWI sentencing in North Carolina is also unable to get a limited driving privilege during the period of their Driver’s License Revocation for the DWI. Therefore, if someone is convicted of a DWI and proof is submitted at sentencing that there was a 17 year old in the vehicle, the person convicted is looking at a minimum of 30 days in jail (or inpatient alcohol treatment) and loss of driving privileges for at least 1 year.
The current DWI sentencing statute also imposes Level 1 punishment if there is (1) a passenger with the mental development of a child less than 18 in the vehicle or (2) a passenger that has a physical disability that would prevent exit from the vehicle without assistance (e.g. a 35 year old passenger that uses a wheelchair).
Prior to December 1, 2011, the law required a passenger to be under the age of 16 for this aggravating factor to apply. In fact, the North Carolina Uniform Citation (pink slip used as the charging document for most DWI’s in North Carolina), still has a box to check for passengers under the age of 16 being in the vehicle. Furthermore, prior to December 1, 2011, a judge was only required to impose a Level 2 DWI sentencing (minimum of 7 days in jail) if he found this aggravating factor to apply, whereas now Level 1 Judgment is required.
If you did have a passenger under the age of 18 with you at the time you were charged with a DWI, the first thing you should do is contact an attorney. The burden of proof is on the State of North Carolina for all aggravating factors the District Attorney wishes to offer at sentencing, and depending on the circumstances it may be difficult for the State to prove the age of passengers in your vehicle. You should also check your citation to see whether the box indicating passengers under the ago of 16 being in the vehicle is check.