North Carolina DWI Frequently Asked Questions
Answers from a Former Prosecutor in Carteret County
Driving while impaired is a serious offense in North Carolina. Law enforcement can legally issue a DWI charge if they suspect that the driving is impaired by drugs or alcohol and may perform a breath, blood, or urine test to gather evidence against you. Punishment for a DWI is severe and can result in thousands of dollars in fines and several years behind bars.
If you are facing DWI charges, our talented and experienced legal team can investigate the circumstances surrounding your DWI and build a strong case with your best interests in mind. Not only do we have over 14 years of experience, but our attorney is a former NC prosecutor who understands both sides of the legal process and can fight for your rights in court.
What Is BAC?
BAC or blood alcohol concentration is the percentage of ethyl alcohol or ethanol in a person’s bloodstream. This percentage is what determines whether a person is guilty of a DWI or not. In North Carolina, the legal BAC limit is 0.08 or higher meaning anyone with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 is breaking the law.
Does the One Drink, One Hour Rule Work?
There is a common belief that if an individual only drinks one alcoholic beverage per hour, they cannot be drunk enough to fail a breathalyzer or field sobriety test. While it may seem real, this rule is false. Alcohol absorption does not follow a schedule nor is it the same for everyone. Body mass, age, metabolism, and liver function all have an impact on how alcohol is absorbed in the body. So, for some people, one drink one hour may work, but for others, one drink in an hour could be just enough to push their BAC over the legal limit.
Are Breathalyzers Mandatory?
In most cases, drivers are given the choice between a breath or blood test to confirm BAC. The breath test involves testing alcohol concentration by blowing into a tube connected to a testing device called a breathalyzer. These devices are no bigger than a cellphone and measure the percentage of alcohol in the blood.
You may refuse to take a breathalyzer test. However, if there is evidence to suggest that you are driving while intoxicated, the officer may require you to take a blood test at the police station. You have the right to refuse a test but doing so could count against you in some cases.
Can I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?
If you are pulled over for impaired driving, the law enforcement officer may ask you to perform a field sobriety test. These tests can involve different assessment methods like walking in a straight line or putting one’s finger on their nose. The purpose of a field sobriety test is to evaluate intoxication indicators like loss of balance, perception of time, and nystagmus (eye movement).
Depending on your ability to perform, the officer will either have compelling evidence to file charges or if you pass, no reason to arrest you. While you may refuse to take a field sobriety test, it is important to understand that doing so may be held against you in court. However, without solid data to support their suspicion that you may be intoxicated, the officer would not have a legal right to arrest you. The decision is up to you, but you must contact an attorney about your options.
Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?
Sobriety checkpoints are legal, but there are rules for how and when they may take place. One of the main sticking points is the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. According to the amendment, American citizens have the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. In other words, police must have probable cause before entering your home or vehicle and searching through your belongings. Without probable cause, police cannot get search warrants or arrest someone.
These checkpoints are used as opportunities to confirm that a driver violates the law as opposed to collecting the evidence through investigation. They are also legal because of a concept called implied consent. This means that when a driver chooses to go on the road, driving is the same as giving their consent to search and seizure when necessary.
How Long Does a DWI Stay on Your Record?
How long a DWI stays on your record depends on the circumstances. If the DWI is a first-time violation and/or misdemeanor, it can be expunged (removed) relatively quickly. However, if the DWI is a felony, it may be more challenging to get it removed from your record.
Are DWIs Felonies?
A DWI is not a felony unless there are aggravating factors, or it is a repeat offense. An aggravating factor is a detail or occurrence that impacts the severity of an accident or crime. For example, if your BAC is over 0.08, you could be charged with a felony offense. In that case, the BAC is the aggravating factor.
In other cases where driving under the influence results in severe injury or fatalities, it may be elevated to a felony as well. Additionally, repeat offenders face felony charges, especially for two or more DWIs consecutively.
Is Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Worse?
If you are caught driving under the influence of a controlled substance or narcotic instead of alcohol, you could face DWI and drug charges. Instead of becoming a “worse” DWI, it would be added to drug charges like drug possession. If this occurs, you could face penalties like jail time and fines in addition to gaining a criminal record.
What Are the Penalties for a DWI?
Penalties for driving while impaired in North Carolina include:
- Level A1: A fine of up to $10,000 and a minimum sentence of one year in jail
- Level I: A fine of up to $4,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days and maximum two years
- Level II: A fine of up to $2,000 and a jail sentence of seven days to one year
- Level III: A fine up to $1,000 and a jail sentence between 72 hours to six months in addition to community service and license suspension
- Level V: A fine of no more than $200 and a jail sentence of 24 hours to 60 days in addition to community service or 30-day license suspension
What Do I Do If I Have Been Charged With a DWI?
If you are facing DWI charges in Carteret County, NC, you deserve legal representation. At Cummings & Kennedy Law Firm, PLLC, we are passionate about serving our community as fierce advocates and defenders. Our team of experienced professionals never backs down from a tough case and we stand with our clients throughout the legal process.
Do not let a DWI destroy your life. Entrust your case to our firm by scheduling a consultation.
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