DWI Sentencing Factors

This will be a two-part blog post focusing on the intricacies of DWI Sentencing Factors and Sentencing Levels. This first post will provide an overview of DWI plea or trial considerations, and include the DWI Sentencing Factors. Part II will focus on Driving While Impaired Sentencing Levels and the associated consequences with those levels.



The experienced attorneys on the Dummit Fradin Driving While Impaired practice team tirelessly examine all of our clients’ cases, with the aim of finding some legal avenue to exploit and argue on our clients’ behalf. Our seasoned team can identify the strengths and weaknesses of our clients’ cases, and subsequently advise on whether the case is better suited for plea or trial. Ultimately, the client has the final decision on whether to plea or try the case, but the Dummit Fradin Driving While Impaired practice team will make sure you are fully informed when making the decision.

There is a multitude of situations when a person charged with Driving While Impaired might elect to plead their case, rather than go to trial. Some factors that must be considered are prior record and convictions, driving privileges eligibility, efficiency, ignition interlock implications, superior court appeals, etc. Furthermore, even after a well-advocated trial, a person can be found guilty of Driving While Impaired. Clients must be informed of the consequences they face if found guilty of Driving While Impaired. North Carolina has some the most stringent and intricate Driving While Impaired laws in the United States, and as a result, it is critical that an experienced Driving While Impaired attorney handle your case.

DWI sentencing in North Carolina is governed by N.C.G.S. 20-179. This statute authorizes the grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, and mitigating factors that must be weighed, as well as the different levels of Driving While Impaired sentences. Misdemeanor DWI sentences range from Level 5 (best -least severe punishment) to Level A1 (worst -most severe misdemeanor punishment). The factors and sentence levels are discussed below:

Grossly Aggravating Factors

1) A prior conviction for an impaired driving offense if:

  • The conviction occurred within 7 years before the date of the offense; or
  • A conviction occurs after the date of the offense for which the defendant is presently being sentenced, but prior to or contemporaneously with present sentencing or; or
  • The conviction occurred in district court, the case appealed to superior court, appeal withdrawn, and new sentencing hearing not held
  • *Each classifying prior conviction is separate grossly aggravating factor*

2) Serious injury to another person caused by the defendant’s impaired driving at the time of the offense

3) Driving by the defendant at the time of the offense while the defendant’s driver’s license was revoked

Judge MUST:

  • Impose Aggravated Level 1, if 3 or more above factors apply
  • Impose Level 1 if 2 or more above factors apply, or number 4) above applies
  • Impose Level 2 if 1 of above factors applies

Aggravating Factors

  1. Gross impairment with a BAC of .15 or greater
  2. Especially reckless or dangerous driving
  3. Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident
  4. Driving by the defendant while the defendant’s driver’s license is revoked (not impaired revocation)
  5. Two or more prior moving violation convictions for which at least 3 points are assigned, or for which person is subject to revocation if the convictions occurred within 5 years of the date of the offense for which defendant is being sentenced; OR one or more prior Driving While Impaired conviction outside of 7 years
  6. A conviction for speeding by the defendant while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension
  7. A conviction for speeding by the defendant by at least 30 mph over the legal limit
  8. Passing a stopped school bus
  9. Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense

Mitigating Factors

  1. Slight alcohol impairment with a BAC of .09 or less
  2. Slight alcohol impairment with no chemical analysis available to the defendant
  3. Otherwise safe and lawful driving at the time of the offense
  4. Statutorily safe driving record: the defendant has no conviction for any motor vehicle offense for which 4 or more points are assigned within the last 5 years
  5. Defendant’s impairment caused by a lawfully prescribed drug with the prescribed dosage
  6. Defendant’s voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment after charged, and completion of any recommended treatment
  7. Completion of substance abuse assessment, compliance with treatment, and 60 days of alcohol abstinence, as demonstrated by continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM)
  8. Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense

As discussed above, these Driving While Impaired sentencing factors are complex, but a skilled attorney can utilize them to their clients’ benefit. Please contact the DWI lawyers at Dummit Fradin with your sentencing questions today.