DWI Sentencing 2017-08-11T17:58:50+00:00

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How DWI Sentencing Works in North Carolina

Dedicated DWI Lawyers

If your DWI (Driving While Impaired) case goes to court, it’s hopefully going to end with your DWI attorney packing up his or her papers, smiling, and telling you that you won. Unfortunately, it could end with you being found guilty. If so, you need to know what you’re facing in the way of a sentence. North Carolina’s laws for sentencing DWI offenders are laid out in General Statute §20-179. It establishes six tiers, called levels, of sentences.

The level of your sentence is determined by what the state calls grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, and mitigating factors. Grossly aggravating factors or aggravating factors will cause the court to go harder on you. Mitigating factors helps the court to be more lenient. You should speak with a qualified DWI attorney to help you navigate your way through these factors. Often, a DWI lawyer has devoted his or her career to resolving these matters. As part of your sentence, you’ll be required to pay a fine and court costs, and you’ll have to go through an alcohol treatment program.

Our DWI consultations are free: Call (800) 930-0397

DWI Sentencing Factors

State law spells out what it calls grossly aggravating factors. A judge must consider these when sentencing DWI offenders. Judges must also consider aggravating and mitigating factors.

There are four grossly aggravating factors with DWI charges in North Carolina:

  • A prior DWI conviction within 7 years of the date of the offense for which you are being sentenced, or a DWI conviction after the date of the offense for which you are being sentenced. Each prior conviction is considered a separate grossly aggravating factor.

  • Driving while your license was revoked as a result of Impaired Driving Offense

  • Serious injury to another person as a result of your DWI

  • DWI with a child under the age of 18 in the vehicle

If there are no DWI grossly aggravating factors, the judge must weigh the extent to which any aggravating factors figure into the case. State law lists eight specific factors and a ninth “catch all” factor.

They are:

  • Gross impairment while driving or a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher

  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving

  • Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident

  • Driving while your license is revoked

  • Two or more prior convictions for traffic offenses that incur at least 3 points on your record or which could result in a revoked license, if the offenses happened within five years of your DWI arrest; or a prior DWI more than 7 years before the date of your DWI arrest.

  • Speeding to evade DWI arrest

  • Speeding more than 30 mph over the speed limit

  • Passing a stopped school bus

  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense. This is the catch all that allows the judge broad discretion. Every judge has a different internal standard of what event or circumstances falls into this category.

Finally, there are mitigating factors. These are factors that make the offense “not as bad as it could be” and allow for the judge to impose a lighter sentence. North Carolina DWI law spells out seven specific mitigating factors and, again, a “catch all” factor.

They are:

  • Slight impairment and a blood alcohol level of .09 or less

  • Slight impairment on the basis of field sobriety tests in the absence of any chemical analysis of your blood. (However, if you refused tests this factor will not be considered.)

  • Driving that was safe and lawful at the time of your arrest except for being impaired

  • A safe driving record, with no conviction for any traffic offense that incurs four points on your record or which could result in having your license revoked within the prior five years of the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced.

  • Impairment that was caused chiefly by a legally prescribed medication of which you took the prescribed dosage

  • Voluntary participation before sentencing in an alcohol assessment program and, if recommended, voluntary participation in a treatment program

  • Completion of a substance abuse assessment, completion of the recommended treatment, and 60 days abstinence from alcohol as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet (CAM)

  • Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense. (This again is a critical area that varies from judge to judge.)

DWI Sentencing Levels in North Carolina

All DWI convictions, except the felony of Habitual DWI, are sentenced at one of six levels. Level A!, Level one or Level two is imposed if you have a prior DWI conviction within seven years or if there are any other grossly aggravating factors. Levels three, four, and five are imposed for first offenses, offenses occurring more than seven years after the previous offense, and offenses without grossly aggravating factors. If this is your first DWI, the level you get will depend on the weight of the aggravating and mitigating factors in your case. (There are some occasions when you could have a grossly aggravating factor on your first offense.)

Let’s look at the punishment incurred at each level, starting from the bottom up:

  • Level Five: This is the lightest of all sentencing levels. You may be fined up to $200 and must be sentenced to anywhere from 24 hours to 60 days in jail. The judge may suspend the jail term if 1) you are imprisoned for at least 24 hours as a condition of special probation or 2) you perform at least 24 hours of community service. The judge can impose any combination of these conditions.

  • Level Four: In a level four sentence, you may be fined up to $500 and must be sentenced to anywhere from 48 hours to 120 days in jail. The judge may suspend the jail term if 1) you are imprisoned for at least 48 hours as a condition of special probation or 2) you perform at least 48 hours of community service. The judge can impose any combination of these conditions.

  • Level Three: You may be fined up to $1000 and must be sentenced anywhere from 72 hours to six months in prison if you are sentenced at level three. The judge may suspend the jail term if 1) you are imprisoned for at least 72 hours as a condition of special probation or 2) you perform at least 72 hours of community service. The judge can impose any combination of these conditions.

  • Level Two: A Level two sentence is a serious sentence. The judge must impose level two punishment if any one grossly aggravating factor is present. At Level two, you may be fined up to $2,000, and you must be sentenced anywhere from seven days to one year in prison. As an alternative, the judge may allow you to complete 90 days of abstinence from alcohol, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet (CAM) to potentially avoid any jail time. The same provisions for losing your license apply as under level one, and the judge will make completing an alcohol treatment program a condition to having your driving privileges restored after the period of suspension, but until then you get no limited driving privileges.

  • Level One: Under Level one sentencing, the court imposes the second most severe punishment. A judge must hand you a level one sentence if two grossly aggravating factors are present, or if there was a passenger in the car who was less than 18 years of age. At Level one, you may be fined up to $4,000, and you must be sentenced to active time anywhere from 30 days to 2 years in prison. To reduce the minimum 30 days in jail to a lesser 10 days in jail , the judge may allow you to complete 120 days of abstinence from alcohol, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet (CAM). The judge will order that you not drive until the DMV gives you back your driver’s license. That period of time depends on how close together your DWI convictions are. The judge will also make completing an alcohol treatment program a condition to having your driving privileges restored, but again, you get no limited driving privileges during your period of suspension.

  • Level A1: Under Level A1 (aggravated level one) sentencing, the court imposes the most severe punishment. A judge must hand you a Level A1 sentence if three grossly aggravating factors are present. At Level A1, you may be fined up to $10,000, and you must be sentenced to active time anywhere from 1 year to 3 years in prison. To reduce the minimum 1 year in prison to a lesser 120 days in jail, the judge may allow you to complete 120 days of abstinence from alcohol, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet (CAM). The judge will order that you not drive until the DMV gives you back your driver’s license. That period of time depends on how close together your DWI convictions are. The judge will also make completing an alcohol treatment program a condition to having your driving privileges restored, but again, you get no limited driving privileges during your period of suspension.

Our Office Locations

1133 West First Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
(336) 777-8081
321 West Eleventh Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
(704) 319-7200
412 West Market Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
(336) 482-3848
820 North Elm Street
High Point, NC 27262
(336) 777-1770

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The needs of our clients always come first. For the convenience of the individuals we serve, we have four office locations. No matter what the case entails, we look forward to meeting and working with you to get through this matter as efficiently and effectively as possible.

820 North Elm Street
High Point, NC 27262
(336) 777-1770
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412 West Market Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
(336) 482-3848
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321 West Eleventh Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
(704) 319-7200
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1133 West First Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
(336) 777-8081
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