Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Your Raleigh DWI Case: The Basics

Driving home after a steady night of drinking at Foundation, suddenly police sirens blare and lights flash in your rearview mirror. Even the most law-abiding citizens have been through the sometimes scary experience of a DWI checkpoint or traffic stop, and possibly even arrested, so here is a guide to your Raleigh DWI case.

The Stop

If a Raleigh police officer pulls you over for suspicion of drinking and driving, the officer will likely begin a Field Sobriety Test. The officer will observe you for signs of intoxication and ask you to perform simple tasks requiring coordination. If you fail this test, you will likely be asked to submit to a blood, breath or urine test.

In North Carolina, you can be charged with DWI for operating any vehicle when your blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, is at or above legal limit OR while you are under the influence of an impairing substance. DWI is usually defined by your BAC:

  • 21 or Older: 0.08%
  • Commercial drivers: 0.04%
  • Younger than 21: Any alcohol concentration
  • Prior DWI: 0.04%

If the test results show that your BAC is above the legal limit, or if you refuse to submit to the test, the officer can arrest you on the spot.

Implied Consent Law

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 necessarily prevent a DWI conviction.


Your next likely stop will be the "drunk tank" at the police station within your district. You will be searched and your personal belongings will be confiscated until your release. You will then be fingerprinted and led to a holding cell, where you will stay until the police determine that you are no longer impaired.

Arraignment and Bail

You will soon receive notice of an arraignment date at one of Raleigh'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. You can hire an attorney in the Raleigh area who specializes in DWI law. If you cannot afford an attorney the court may refer you to one of the attorneys on the Wake 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. In Raleigh, bail for first time DWI offender will likely be set between $500 and $1,000. 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 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 DUI, do not have another pending DUI charge and have obtained a substance abuse assessment.

Refusal Hearing

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 from the DMV you have ten days to request a refusal hearing. A DMV official will consider whether the police officer had probable cause to pull you over and perform a sobriety test.

Plea Bargaining

In some circumstances, the Wake County 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 there are no prior DWIs.

DWI Sentencing

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.

Furthermore, North Carolina often requires the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device, or "IID," following a DUI 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.

Getting Your License Back

All DWI offenses can leave you with a suspended or revoked license. If your license is suspended, 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.


Now that you have an idea of what's ahead, you may want to explore FindLaw's section on DWI law for even more information.

Was this helpful?

Thank you. Your response has been sent.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex DUI situations usually require a lawyer
  • DUI defense attorneys can challenge Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer or blood test results
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate DUI penalties
  • A lawyer can help get your license back

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options