Wednesday half-priced wine at Europa doesn't mean you had to drink twice as much as normal, but nevertheless you need to drive through your buzz to get a good night sleep for work tomorrow. You feel good about your driving, and you almost make it home, when sirens blare and lights flash in your rear view mirror. DWI charges are remarkably easy to earn, even for a normally law abiding citizen, but wading through the murky North Carolina justice system is a daunting prospect. To help you prepare you, FindLaw has created this guide to your Greensboro DWI case.
Just a Couple of Beers
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.
The State begins building evidence against you during the initial traffic stop, but the U.S. Constitution limits the reach of Greensboro police officers' actions. These limits are extremely important to your DWI case because of something called the exclusionary rule, which states that any evidence gathered in violation of your constitutional rights cannot be used against you in court. Best case scenario -- the initial traffic stop is deemed unconstitutional and your entire case gets thrown out.
If questions about police conduct arise, one option for the defense is to bring a motion to suppress evidence to challenge the constitutionality of the police officer's actions. The prosecutor must prove that the officer had reasonable suspicion that you committed a criminal offense before pulling you over, and that he had probable cause that you were driving while intoxicated before arresting you.
This is why it might be a good idea not to admit to an officer that you've had alcoholic beverages before driving. Many people's reaction is to admit they just had "a couple beers" with dinner, but these statements could be used against you in court to prove that you were drinking. Regardless, it may be your best option to peacefully cooperate with officer's requests, perform required sobriety tests, and not volunteer information.
Refusal to Submit to Testing
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. Refusal may deprive the state of critical BAC evidence, but refusing to submit to a chemical test does not necessarily prevent a DWI conviction.
If you refuse to submit to the 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 have ten days to request a refusal hearing. At such a hearing, a DMV official determines whether the police officer had probable cause to pull you over and perform a sobriety test.
Arraignment and Bail
Going back to the criminal process, however, you may soon receive notice of your arraignment at one of Greensboro courthouses. An arraignment is a formal reading of the criminal charges against you and your opportunity to enter a plea. Pleading guilty at this early stage might not be the best idea, since you haven't had a chance review the State's evidence. When your case is called, the judge will ask if you have an attorney and may appoint a defense attorney from the Guilford County public defender roster.
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.
North Carolina DWI penalties are based on five "levels," and your judge uses aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the severity of your offense:
- 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 likely be fined between $200 and $4,000. For a misdemeanor DWI you can probably 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, and for four years after a second. You risk losing your license permanently if you are convicted of a third DWI.
Furthermore, 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 "limited driving privileges," which would allow you to drive to and from work, to emergency medical treatment, and for court-ordered treatments. You are eligible 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.
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.
Learn more about DWI charges in general within FindLaw's section on DWI law.