Raleigh Skyline

Is DWI a Felony in NC? Understanding DWI Convictions and Felony Charges

is dwi a felony in NC

Are you facing charges for driving while impaired (DWI) in North Carolina? Understanding the potential consequences and classifications of driving a motor vehicle when impaired is crucial for navigating the legal system effectively. As we delve into the question, "Is DWI a felony in NC?," our experienced DWI attorney from the Law Offices of J.M. Kotzker will provide valuable insights.  

John M. Kotzker, Esq. is a prominent Raleigh, NC DWI defense lawyer with years of experience and a track record of success. Along with past successes, he brings extensive knowledge of DWI defense to the table. If you find yourself in a challenging legal situation, trust in the skills of Mr. Kotzker to guide you through the complexities of DWI law in North Carolina.

DWI Convictions in North Carolina

An offense involving impaired driving can have significant consequences. It is crucial to comprehend the various levels of DWI convictions, the penalties associated with a first-time offense, and the aggravating factors that can escalate the severity of penalties.

The Six Levels of DWI Convictions

DWI convictions in North Carolina are classified into six distinct levels, each determined by the circumstances and severity of the offense. 

The levels are as follows:

  • Level 5 DWI: This is the least severe level, typically involving a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) between 0.08% and 0.09%. Level 5 DWI convictions may lead to probation or a suspended sentence.
  • Level 4 DWI: This level applies when the BAC is between 0.10% and 0.15%. Penalties may include fines, potential jail time, and mandatory alcohol assessment.
  • Level 3 DWI: With a BAC ranging from 0.16% to 0.19%, Level 3 DWI convictions result in increased penalties, including a longer license suspension, mandatory substance abuse treatment, and potential ignition interlock device installation.
  • Level 2 DWI: When the BAC exceeds 0.19%, Level 2 DWI convictions are incurred. These offenses carry more severe consequences, such as substantial fines, longer license suspensions, mandatory imprisonment, and the possibility of an extended probation period.
  • Level 1 DWI: This level involves aggravated circumstances, such as driving with a revoked license, driving with a minor in the vehicle,  or a prior DWI conviction within the past seven years. Level 1 DWI convictions carry substantial fines, lengthy license suspensions, mandatory imprisonment, and the possibility of other court-mandated conditions.

Penalties for a First-Time DWI Conviction

A first-time DWI conviction in North Carolina can have serious repercussions. 

The specific penalties depend on the level of conviction, but common consequences include:

  • Fines
  • License Suspension
  • Community Service
  • Alcohol Assessment and Treatment

Aggravating Factors That Can Lead to Increased Penalties

Certain aggravating factors can significantly impact the severity of DWI penalties in North Carolina. 

These factors include:

  • High BAC over 0.15%
  • Prior Convictions
  • Reckless Driving
  • Driving with a Revoked License
  • Driving with a minor in the vehicle

How Prior DWI Convictions Can Impact Sentencing in North Carolina

In North Carolina, prior DWI convictions can have a significant impact on the sentencing of subsequent offenses. The state follows a "lookback period" of seven years, meaning that any prior DWI conviction within that timeframe is taken into account during sentencing. Let’s look at the ways prior convictions can influence the penalties for DWI offenses.

Aggravated Level 1 DWI

If an individual is convicted of DWI and has a prior DWI conviction within the past seven years, their offense may be elevated to an "Aggravated Level 1 DWI." This is the most severe and most serious category level of DWI conviction in North Carolina and carries enhanced penalties, including higher fines, longer license revocation periods, mandatory imprisonment, and other stringent requirements.

Prior Conviction Levels

Each prior DWI conviction within the lookback period affects the level of the current offense. For instance, a Level 3 DWI offense may be elevated to a Level 2 if the individual has one prior conviction within seven years. Similarly, a Level 2 DWI offense may be further elevated to a Level 1 DWI if there are two or more prior convictions within the lookback period.

Sentencing Enhancements

Prior DWI convictions can lead to sentencing enhancements, resulting in longer periods of imprisonment, extended license revocations, and increased fines. The number of prior convictions and the time elapsed since each conviction are factors considered by the court when determining appropriate enhancements.

Habitual DWI Offender Status

In North Carolina, individuals with three or more DWI convictions within ten years can be classified as "Habitual DWI Offenders." This classification carries even more severe penalties, including mandatory imprisonment without the possibility of parole for certain offenses.

Felony DWI Charges in North Carolina

In North Carolina, a DWI charge can escalate to a felony offense under certain circumstances, marking a significant increase in the severity of the offense. A DWI classified as a felony in North Carolina carries more severe penalties and can have lasting consequences. Let's explore the circumstances of felony offenses for DWI charges and the potential penalties associated with such convictions.

Circumstances That Can Lead to a Felony DWI Charge

In order for a DWI charge to be classified as a class F felony, egregious circumstances need to take place, for instance: 

  • The driver is a habitual impaired driving history
  • Serious injury or death was caused by DWI
  • Felony death by vehicle caused by DWI
  • Child passenger

Potential Penalties for a Felony DWI Conviction

The penalties for a felony DWI conviction in North Carolina are harsh and can have a long-lasting impact on a person's life. The specific penalties vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the offender's prior record. 

Here are some potential consequences for a felony conviction for DWI in NC:

  • Mandatory prison sentence
  • Lengthy incarceration
  • Substantial fines
  • License revocation
  • Probation and supervised release
  • Ignition interlock device
  • Mandatory substance abuse assessment and treatment

Defending Against DWI Charges in North Carolina

Facing DWI sentencing in North Carolina can be an intimidating and complex legal situation. However, it's important to remember that you have the right to mount a strong defense to protect your rights and challenge the allegations against you. 

Challenging the Traffic Stop

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. If law enforcement lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle, it may be possible to challenge the legality of the traffic stop. Any evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful stop could be suppressed, weakening the prosecution's case.

Questioning Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests, such as the walk-and-turn or one-leg stand, are subjective assessments of an individual's coordination and balance. These tests can be influenced by various factors, including fatigue, medical conditions, or environmental conditions. 

Challenging Breathalyzer or Blood Test Results

Breathalyzer or blood test results are often crucial pieces of evidence in DWI cases. However, these tests can be prone to errors or inaccuracies. Factors such as improper calibration of testing equipment, mishandling of samples, or medical conditions affecting test results can be grounds for challenging the validity of these tests.

Procedural Violations

Law enforcement officers must follow specific procedures during a DWI arrest, such as conducting a proper Miranda warning or ensuring your right to an attorney. If these procedural requirements were not met, it may be possible to challenge the admissibility of certain evidence or even have the case dismissed.

Rising Blood Alcohol Concentration (Rising BAC)

It takes time for alcohol to be absorbed into the bloodstream. If you consumed alcohol just before driving, your BAC might still be rising at the time of the traffic stop. This defense strategy argues that your BAC was within the legal limit while you were driving but rose to an illegal level by the time the breath or blood test was conducted.

Challenging Officer's Observations

DWI charges often rely on the officer's observations and testimony regarding your behavior, appearance, and performance during field sobriety tests. Discrepancies in the officer's report, inconsistencies in their observations, or questioning their credibility can be effective defense tactics.

Involuntary Intoxication or Medical Condition

If you were unknowingly exposed to drugs or alcohol or have a medical condition that affected your behavior or performance on sobriety tests, it may be possible to argue involuntary intoxication or that your impairment was not due to alcohol or drugs.

Necessity Defense

In rare cases, the necessity defense may be applicable. This defense argues that you drove under the influence to avoid imminent harm or danger, such as a medical emergency or threat to personal safety.

Facing A DWI in NC? Contact an Experienced DWI Attorney Today

If you're facing an impaired driving offense in North Carolina, don't navigate the legal process alone. Your future and rights are at stake, and it's crucial to have an experienced DWI attorney by your side. 

Contacting a skilled attorney who specializes in DWI defense can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. With his knowledge, expertise, and understanding of the intricacies of North Carolina DWI laws, the Law Offices of J.M. Kotzker will work diligently to protect your rights, build a strong defense, and advocate for the best possible outcome. 

Don't delay– take action now by calling us at (919) 439-5104 or filling out our contact form below.