Seafood at Circa 1800 sounds fantastic after a long Monday. It was full as usual and you decided to sit at the bar, so how could you resist their Martini Monday specials? You nose feels a little tingly paying the bill, but the alcohol doesn't hit you until you start walking to your car. You can't lose face in front of your friends, so you start the engine, pop in a mint and pray for the best. However, your prayers go unanswered as your trance is rudely interrupted by the unmistakable flashing lights and siren of a police cruiser. You've been stopped for a DWI, and you have no idea how the process works. Here's some general information about DWI cases.
A DWI case typically begins during the initial traffic stop, during which an officer will observe you for signs of intoxication and perhaps ask you to perform some simple field sobriety tests to measure your coordination and alertness. If you fail these tests, police may ask you to submit to breath, blood or urine testing, as described below. Regardless, you may be subject to a DWI arrest after failing sobriety tests.
In North Carolina DWI is defined by the alcohol content in your bloodstream, called BAC. The upper limit is normally 0.08%, but commercial drivers or individuals with prior DWI convictions can only drive with a BAC below 0.04%. Individuals under the age of 21 can be convicted of DWI with any detectable alcohol content. The police will determine your BAC with a breath, blood or urine chemical test. So why not just refuse the test, you ask?
North Carolina's "implied consent" law states that your license will be suspended for one year if you refuse to submit to a chemical test after being arrested for DWI. Refusal can deprive the State of critical BAC evidence, but refusing to submit to a chemical test does not prevent a DWI conviction. In fact, the prosecutor may use a person's refusal as evidence that they knew they'd fail if tested.
If you refuse to submit to a test, you will receive a letter from the DMV informing you that your license will be suspended for one year within a few months. 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. Those are the only two questions that will matter at such a hearing.
Arraignment and Bail
You will soon receive notice of your arraignment at the Cumberland County Courthouse at 117 Dick Street. An arraignment is a formal reading of the criminal charges against you and an opportunity to enter a plea, though you probable shouldn't plead guilty at this early stage.
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 from a local bond company. Typically the bondsman will loan you the amount of bail in exchange for 10% of the loan.
North Carolina DWI penalties are based on five "levels," and a 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 DWIs require a substance abuse assessment and you will be fined between $200 and $4,000. Expect jail time of at least 24 hours, and up to a year, for misdemeanor offenses. Furthermore, repeat offenders or extremely aggravated DWIs can be charged as a felony, and you could be sentenced up to three years in prison.
Additionally, 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.
Reinstating a License
Your license will be suspended for one year after a first DWI and for four years after a second. You risk losing your license permanently if you are convicted of a third DWI.
However, you might be eligible for a "limited driving privileges," which will allow you to drive to and from work, to emergency medical treatment, and for court-ordered treatments. You are eligible for this type of license if 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.
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.
As you can probably tell by now, DWI law is not always straightforward. If you have specific questions about a particular case, you may be well served by consulting with a local DWI attorney.