So you had a few drinks to wash down your tapas at Soul Gastrolounge, but it's not like your driving skills were compromised. Unfortunately, the Charlotte police officer at the sobriety checkpoint felt differently. It is surprisingly easy to receive a DWI citation, but the legal process that follows is anything but easy. To help you navigate the murky waters of the North Carolina justice system, FindLaw has created this guide to prepare you for your Charlotte DWI case.
Had Anything to Drink Tonight, Sir?
Your typical DWI case starts when a police officer pulls you over. The officer will likely ask you to exit your vehicle and perform a field sobriety test. This test is a series of simple physical and mental tasks designed to measure your level of intoxication. If you perform poorly, the officer will probably ask you to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test. If the results indicate your blood alcohol content, or "BAC," is above the legal limit, the officer can arrest you on the spot and have your car towed.
North Carolina's "implied consent" law states that if you refuse to submit to a chemical test after being arrested, your license will be suspended for one year. Keep in mind that refusing to submit to a chemical test does not prevent a normal DWI conviction.
The Fourth Amendment requires the officer to form "reasonable suspicion" that you are committing a crime before he can pull you over. Furthermore, the officer must have "probable cause" to arrest you. If the officer detained you even momentarily without an objectively justifiable reason, your lawyer can file a motion to suppress evidence and have your case thrown out.
But I Wasn't Even Buzzed…
DWI is usually defined by your BAC, and the upper limit depends on your situation:
- 21 or Older: 0.08%
- Commercial drivers: 0.04%
- Younger than 21: Any alcohol concentration
- Prior DWI: 0.04%
After being arrested, you will be brought to the nearest police station within your district. You will be placed in a holding cell and not released until you are no longer impaired.
I'll See You in court!
You will soon receive notice of your first court appearance at one of Charlotte's courthouses. An arraignment is a formal reading of the criminal charges against you, and your opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. When your case is called, the judge will ask if you have an attorney and, if not, may refer you to the Mecklenburg County Public Defender.
At the end of your arraignment the judge will set bail, which is a deposit that will be returned when you appear at your next scheduled court date. If you cannot afford bail you can instead get a bail bond, where the bondsman loans you the amount of bail in exchange for 10% of the loan.
Limited Driving Privilege
The DMV will automatically revoke your license for 30 days if you are either arrested for DWI or you refuse to submit to a chemical test. During those 30 days you can apply for Limited Driving Privileges, which will typically allow you to drive to and from work and school.
You are eligible to obtain a limited driving privilege ten days after your license was revoked, so long as you held a valid license at the time of the DWI, do not have another pending DWI charge, and have obtained a substance abuse assessment.
A few months after you are arrested, you will receive a letter from the DMV informing you that your license will be suspended for one year. Once you receive the letter, you will have ten days to request a refusal hearing. At such a hearing, a DMV official will determine whether the police officer had probable cause to pull you over and perform a sobriety test.
In some circumstances, the prosecutor may allow you to plead to the lesser charge of "reckless driving involving alcohol," commonly referred to as a "wet reckless." This favorable plea is more likely when BAC is barely illegal, there was no accident, and you have no prior DWIs.
North Carolina DWI penalties are based on five "levels," and your judge uses aggravating and mitigating factors to determine your level:
- Aggravating factors: BAC of 0.16% or higher, reckless driving, prior DWI convictions, DWI accident, speeding 30 mph over the posted limit or driving with a revoked license.
- Mitigating factors: BAC that does not exceed 0.09%, safe driving record, or voluntary alcohol treatment.
All DUIs require a substance abuse assessment. You will be fined between $200 and $4,000. For a misdemeanor DWI you can expect jail time of at least 24 hours and up to a year. Furthermore, repeat offenders or extremely aggravated DWIs can be charged as a felony, and you could be sentenced up to three years in prison.
Your license will be suspended for one year after a first DWI, for four years after a second. You risk losing your license permanently if you are convicted of a third DWI.
Last, but not least, North Carolina often requires the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device, or "IID," following a DWI conviction. This usually happens when your BAC is above 0.15%, or you have been convicted of prior DWIs. You must purchase and install your own IID, which includes an approximate $100 installation fee and a $72 monthly lease fee.
Get Back on the Road
All DWI offenses can leave you with a suspended or revoked license. If so, you might be eligible for a "restricted license," which will allow you to drive to and from work, to emergency medical treatment, and for court-ordered treatments.
If your license was revoked, you can reinstate it by serving your suspension time, providing proof of enrollment in an alcohol safety school (if required), paying all court fines, paying the $75 reinstatement fee, and reapplying for your license.
Read FindLaw's section on DWI law to learn how to defend yourself from DWI charges.