Kurtz & Blum, PLLC - Criminal Justice Attorney

DWI Attorneys

Being arrested and convicted of DWI — driving while impaired — in North Carolina can be a scary and costly experience. Even at the lowest level of punishment, a North Carolina DWI conviction can mean time in jail, thousands of dollars in fines and court costs, and the loss of driving privileges. A DWI conviction can also be held against you by auto insurers, potential employers, and others for years to come.

It is a mistake to plead guilty to a DWI without a lawyer, and it is a colossal mistake to face a DWI charge on your own. Schedule a free consultation for an honest assessment of your case today by calling (919) 336-1541 or filling out our online contact form.

What Should I Do If I Am Stopped for a DWI?

If you are stopped for Driving While Impaired, the police may ask you to take two sorts of tests at the site of the stop: field sobriety tests and a road side breath test.

Field sobriety tests are things like walking a straight line, standing on one foot, or asking you to follow a pen or a light with your eyes. A portable breath test is exactly what it sounds like: you breathe through a tube into a machine that tests your breath for alcohol content. 

Some things you should do if you are stopped for a DWI include:

Refuse the Field Sobriety Tests

You are not obligated to take either sort of test. My advice: unless you are stone cold sober, unless you have had nothing to drink for 24 hours, politely refuse. People who have been drinking are very, very bad at guessing whether they will be able to pass these tests and these days, a single cocktail can contain a whole lot of liquor.

If there is any reason to doubt, DON’T do it. The police officer may arrest you, but by choosing not to take the field sobriety tests and the portable breath test, you are making it much harder for the police officer to justify the arrest to a judge. You have the right to say, “No.” Don’t give up your rights.

If you do decide to take a breath test after an arrest, you have the right to have a witness watch you take the test so long as you can get that witness to the police station within 30 minutes. Call a witness. Even if you cannot get them to the station in time, you will still delay the test for half an hour. In many cases, this delay is long enough to lower your breath and blood alcohol levels below the legal limit.

Don’t Answer Questions About Your Drinking

Whatever you do, DO NOT answer questions about your drinking to the police. One of the standard questions that the police ask is how impaired you are on a scale of 1 to 10. This is a trick question. The police do not have to prove that you are drunk to convict you of DWI. They only have to show that you are affected by alcohol. Any answer above zero is admitting that you are impaired. You don’t have to answer their questions. Don’t do it.

Do I Need a DWI Lawyer or Can I Represent Myself?

The Short Answer Is That You Should Always Have a Good DWI Attorney in Your Corner If You Are Charged With DWI.

If you are charged with DWI, you should have a skilled and experienced DWI lawyer by your side. Hire us, hire someone else, or, if you can’t afford one, ask for an attorney to be appointed to you. The worst mistake you could possibly make in a DWI is to try to handle it yourself.

There are a staggering number of legal issues that can become important when evaluating driving while impaired cases. Read through our pages on drunk driving cases. Watch our videos. If after all that you still think that this is something that you can handle on your own, then that is your right and your prerogative. We wish you the best of luck…just don’t forget the old expression, the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. The system is a maze. You should have counsel who knows which route to take and why. The alternative can lead to a very hard lesson.

Punishment and Sentencing for DWI in North Carolina

Many people wonder, “Can you go to jail for a DWI?” The short answer is: yes. You can go to jail for a DWI, even if it’s your first DWI. 

As in every U.S. state, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content at or above 0.08 percent in North Carolina. If you are younger than the legal drinking age of 21 (or drive a school bus or day care van), you can be found guilty of violating the law with any detectible amount of alcohol in your blood.

Intoxication from alcohol is typically established per se (i.e., “in itself”) through breath or blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) tests. In North Carolina, the district attorney can also gain a guilty verdict by proving “appreciable impairment,” which could be shown through the arresting officer’s observations and professional opinion.

Once a guilty verdict has been rendered, the judge in a DWI case will determine a sentence based on the case’s “aggravating factors,” “grossly aggravating factors,” or “mitigating factors.” With guilt and the below factors of the case in mind, the judge may impose a sentence that is based on the level of the crime.

  • Level V — Punishable by a fine up to $200 and can result in 24 hours to 60 days in jail. A judge can suspend most of the sentence. but the driver must spend at least 24 hours in jail or perform at least 24 hours of community service.
  • Level IV — Punishable by a fine up to $500 and 48 hours to 120 days in jail. A judge can suspend most of the sentence, but the driver must spend at least 48 hours in jail or perform at least 48 hours of community service.
  • Level III — Punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and 72 hours to 6 months in jail. A judge can suspend most of the sentence, but the driver must spend at least  72 hours in jail or perform at least 72 hours of community service.
  • Level II — Punishable by a fine up to $2,000 and 7 days to 1 year in jail. A judge can only suspend the minimum sentence of 7 days in jail in exchange for inpatient treatment for substance abuse or for extensive time spent wearing an alcohol monitor.
  • Level I — Punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and 30 days to 2 years in jail. A judge can only suspend the minimum sentence of 30 days in jail in exchange for inpatient treatment for substance abuse or for extensive time spent wearing an alcohol monitor.
  • Aggravated Level 1 or A1 — This punishment level is reserved for people with three or more aggravating factors. It was intended for repeat DWI convictions, but most often is handed out to a parent who is driving impaired with children in the car or young people driving their underage friends. Level A1 carries a potential fine of up to $10,000, a minimum sentence of 12 months in jail and up to 36 months. While some of that sentence may be suspended, the driver must serve at least 120 days in jail.

In addition to jail time and fines, convicted drivers must complete a substance abuse assessment and complete any recommended treatment before they can have their license restored. 

Felony serious injury by vehicle can be punished by up to 59 months in prison.

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Aggravating Factors for DWI Cases

Aggravating factors for DWI cases that can cause a court to impose a harsher punishment include:

  • Gross impairment of the defendant’s faculties while driving, or a BAC of 0.15 percent or more within a relevant time after driving
  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving at the time of the DWI offense
  • Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident during the DWI offense
  • Impaired driving by the defendant while his or her driver’s license was revoked
  • Speeding while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension for DWI
  • Speeding at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit during the DWI offense
  • Passing a stopped North Carolina school bus
  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the DWI offense

Grossly Aggravating Factors for DWI Cases

Grossly aggravating factors for DWI cases that impose an even more significant increase in punishment include:

  • A prior DWI conviction:
    • Within seven years of the current offense; or
    • Occurring after the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced, prior to or simultaneously with the present sentencing
  • Driving with a driver’s license having been revoked for a prior DWI
  • Causing serious injury to another person through impaired driving at the time of the DWI offense (e.g., a drunk driving accident)
  • Having a child younger than 16 years old in the vehicle at the time of the DWI offense

Driver’s License and Insurance Effects of a DWI 

In addition to a monetary fine and a jail sentence, a DWI conviction results in revocation of North Carolina driving privileges.

Revocation is longer for each subsequent offense:

  • First DWI Offense — 1 year’s revocation if there are no prior DWI convictions within the last 3 years (based on arrest date).
  • Second DWI Offense — 4 years’ revocation for a second DWI conviction within 3 years. There is a possibility for a hearing to restore your license after 2 years if you have completed a DWI substance abuse program and have made significant changes in your lifestyle. These changes will have to be verified by witnesses at the hearing.
  • Third DWI Offense — Permanent loss of N.C. driver’s license for a third DWI if the two most recent convictions occurred within 5 years. After 5 years without a license, the DWI offender can request a hearing by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles to reinstate the driver’s license.

Though the sentencing and license revocation that follow a DWI conviction are certainly nothing to sneeze at, the skyrocketing insurance increases are typically the costliest result of a conviction. North Carolina has a Safe Driver Incentive Plan (SDIP), which is used to calculate insurance points based on your driving record. The insurance points from the SDIP are then used to judge an insurance holder’s premiums.

If you are convicted of a DWI, the monetary effects will stay with you long after your court and legal fees are paid. If you have a DWI on your driving record, insurance companies will consider you a high-risk driver and your insurance rates will unfortunately rise astronomically.

A DWI earns you a total of 12 insurance points, which in turn, causes your insurance premium to jump by 400%. Your premium will remain high for three years following your conviction. Any other points you earn during that period will continue to raise your premium.

When your insurance company discovers your DWI conviction on your driving record, you can expect an increase your premium. It is your choice as to whether to stick with your current auto insurance company or to shop around for cheaper rates for an insurance policy after a DWI. There are insurance companies that specifically target people convicted of a DWI and can be a bit more reasonable. It may be worth your time to compare rates.

Potential Defenses for DWI Charges in North Carolina

If you have been charged with driving while impaired in North Carolina, it is crucial that you have an experienced North Carolina DWI lawyer to defend you. There are opportunities to challenge your arrest and/or evidence at many points in the case, and our knowledgeable defense attorneys will work quickly to try to reduce or eliminate the damage a DWI can cause.

Among the first issues we will examine are why you were stopped by the police, as well as their justification for arresting you.

Other factors to be questioned include:

  • When and whether the officer informed you of your Miranda rights (i.e., your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney)
  • The arresting officer’s administration and/or interpretation of field sobriety tests. Officers must strictly comply with required procedures when performing Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.
  • Timeliness and propriety of Intoximeter testing and its results, including the prosecution’s ability to demonstrate proper calibration and operation of the Intoximeter used and proper maintenance between uses
  • The legality of “search and seizure” if blood was drawn to test alcohol content
  • Whether there was a medical condition that explains the BAC test results
  • Whether retrograde extrapolation should be applied to determine your BAC at a different time

Contact Our Raleigh DWI Attorneys Today

After an arrest on DWI charges in North Carolina, your next steps may have a serious impact on your future. You should obtain the assistance of a knowledgeable and understanding DWI lawyer as soon as possible.

Considering the substantial repercussions of a DWI arrest and conviction, you want a seasoned Raleigh DWI defense lawyer in your corner. Our DWI lawyers have helped clients through countless impaired driving cases, and we can help you, too.

At Kurtz & Blum, our DWI defense attorneys can walk you through what to expect and build a smart strategy to fight the charges against you. Schedule a free consultation with an attorney today by calling (919) 336-1541 or filling out our online contact form.

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