North Carolina DWI Laws: A Survey from Arrest to Punishment

In North Carolina, there is no sense of humor about intoxicated drivers on the streets and highways. Our state has some of the toughest laws in the country against drunk and drugged driving. Driving while impaired (DWI) is considered a serious offense, and the laws against it are vigorously enforced. Anyone who has been arrested by the police after a roadside sobriety test will face grave legal consequences.

Implied Consent

The North Carolina implied consent law specifies that anyone who uses public motorways—streets, roads, or highways—gives up the right to object to certain chemical tests. If you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer who believes you may be intoxicated, he will administer a standard “field sobriety” test, which may include the use of a portable breath test. That machine will estimate your blood alcohol concentration (BAC)—the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream by volume.

You can be identified as legally impaired if:

  • The test results say your blood alcohol concentration is .08 percent or greater.
  • The test results say your BAC is .04 percent or greater and you were driving a commercial vehicle.
  • The test results say your BAC is .01 percent or greater and you are under age 21.

If the machine indicates you are over the legal limit for alcohol, you will be arrested and taken to the police station where the breath test will be repeated. Even if you pass the breath test, if your behavior seems to warrant it, you will be taken into custody and asked to submit to a blood test for narcotics.

Consequences of a DWI Conviction in North Carolina

If police arrest you for driving while impaired in New Hanover County, you will be brought before a magistrate who will set the conditions for your release before trial. Unless the magistrate decides to drop all the charges against you—an extremely unlikely event—you also will lose your North Carolina driver’s license for 30 days. This is an automatic revocation under state law.

Eventually, you will be tried in criminal court. Driving while impaired is considered a misdemeanor charge. There is a fairly wide range of punishments possible after a North Carolina DWI conviction. They depend on the circumstances of the offense, your previous driving and criminal records, and your BAC reading when arrested. First offenses often receive probation; repeated or more serious offenses are punished with jail time.

If a driver is convicted four or more times in a ten-year period, the North Carolina habitual impaired driver statute comes into play. The sentence in that case will be at least one year in prison, with no option for a suspended sentence.

If You Need Help

If you have been arrested in New Hanover County for driving while impaired, you can’t afford to hope that everything will work out okay on its own. A skilled Wilmington criminal defense lawyer can negotiate for a favorable plea bargain or challenge the BAC findings in the courtroom. Contact Speaks Law Firm today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 to find out what we can do to help you.

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.