Regardless of where you drive in the U.S., everyone is familiar with what a DWI generally entails. There’s a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 0.08% that drivers must not exceed, or else they are legally impaired. Not all states would require jail time as a first-offense penalty, but motorists charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) generally must pay a fine for their violation.
But North Carolina is unique among the U.S. states for having multiple “levels” of DWI penalties. This gives the state some of the country’s most complex drunk driving laws.
Five sentence levels of increasing penalties
All DWI offenders in North Carolina are levied one of five DWI misdemeanor charges, five being the lowest and one reserved for the most severe offenders. The levels are:
- Level V: The driver faces a fine of up to $200 and may have to serve a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours to 60 days.
- Level IV: The driver faces a fine of up to $200 and may have to serve a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours to 120 days.
- Level III: The driver faces a fine of up to $1,000 and may have to serve a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours to six months.
- Level II: The driver faces a fine of up to $2,000 and may have to serve a minimum jail sentence of seven days to one year.
- Level I: The driver faces a fine of up to $4,000 and may have to serve a minimum jail sentence of 30 days up to a maximum of two years.
Typically, Level I and II charges are handed out to repeat offenders, drivers with revoked licenses, impaired drivers who happen to have underage passengers at the time of their arrest and impaired drivers who have injured another person in a collision.
What determines a driver’s DWI level?
During a sentencing hearing over the DWI charge, the driver and prosecution submit a list of aggravating or mitigating factors for the judge to consider. These factors help the judge determine the sentencing level a driver would get. These factors include:
Grossly aggravating factors
- The driver’s license was previously revoked due to a DWI charge.
- The driver has a prior DWI conviction within the past seven years.
- The driver’s current DWI led to the severe injury of another person.
- The driver had an underaged passenger or had a person with a disability as a passenger.
- The driver had a BAC of 0.15% or higher.
- The driver had two or more previous driving violations worth three points against their license.
- The driver has a prior conviction of evading police.
- The driver has a prescription for a drug that may have impaired them.
- The driver’s BAC was 0.09% or lower.
- The driver, despite being impaired, was driving safely.
No matter the DWI level charged, all impaired drivers must accomplish a substance abuse assessment. They must also comply with any treatment prescribed by the authorities as a condition for restoring their licenses.
North Carolina’s DWI laws are complicated if the multiple DWI levels are any indication. Because several factors can affect whether a driver gets harsher penalties, they might want to call a lawyer for help. Lawyers can help drivers understand their options in court and advocate for their rights.