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Arrested for DWI in North Carolina? What Happens Now?

You, a friend, or a family member may have been charged with Driving While Impaired in North Carolina, or DWI. (In the past, this was often referred to as DUI or Driving Under the Influence.)

A driver can be impaired by substances other than alcohol, for example by these drugs:

  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Opioids
  • Prescription Medications

The term DWI was meant to include all substances that might impair normal mental or physical faculties, or both to an appreciable extent. DUI tended to relate more to alcohol only.

Impaired Driving charges are criminal cases. They have special rules for their presentation in court, some of which we explain within this website, our blog, and downloadable materials.

Can I Still Drive Legally After a DWI?

A charge of Driving While Impaired in North Carolina can result in an immediate thirty-day revocation of your driving privilege. . .just for being charged. After the arrest, a Pre-Trial Limited Driving Privilege may be obtained in certain circumstances.

We will prepare it for you as part of our legal representation. Obviously you must qualify for the privilege and otherwise complete the required steps for the privilege to be issued.

I Need to Drive to Work. What do I do Now?

Prior to obtaining the Pre-Trial Limited Driving Privilege, there are several primary requirements that clients assist us in completing or obtaining:

  • Alcohol Assessment
  • DL-123 or Equivalent
  • Work Hours Documentation
  • Signed Privilege and Associated Application Materials
  • Affidavit
  • $100.00 Money Order Payable to the Clerk of Court
What is an Alcohol Assessment?

You must obtain an Alcohol Assessment at a properly licensed facility. It is a requirement of the North Carolina General Assembly. Normally, the assessment includes two questionnaires that are approved by the state of North Carolina. Without going into great detail, the process helps to determine whether one might have a potential problem with alcohol or other substances.

The cost of the assessment is $100. In most instances, payment is accepted at the time of the appointment. If your schedule requires a weekend or evening visit, advance payment may be required by the assessing agency. There also may be additional charges associated with an alcohol assessment.

What are Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and Dexterity Tests?

Police often request roadside sobriety tests, including:

  • The Horizontal Gaze and Nystagmus HGN
  • Walk and Turn / Heel to Toe
  • One Leg Stand

Officers also occasionally perform other tests such as making one say their ABC’s, count on their fingers, or answer questions.

Another common testing device is the AlcoSensor. The AlcoSensor is a portable alcohol-screening device normally given on the scene prior to arrest. The Court may consider “positive” AlcoSensor results to establish whether probable cause existed for arrest.

Alcohol Screening and Evidential Breath Testing Devices

Roadside dexterity tests work hand-in-hand with alcohol screening devices. The PBT or Preliminary Breath Test result is only one of many factors the officer considers in determining whether the suspect should be arrested for DWI.

  • The PBT should never be the sole basis for a DWI arrest
  • The PBT should be properly maintained and calibrated
  • The Charging Officer should possess the requisite training and experience to conduct testing
  • PBT test results are different from Evidentiary Testing
How do Breath Testing and “Breathalyzer” Devices Work?

The purpose of breath testing devices is to obtain a representative sample of the different chemicals expelled from the bloodstream into the respiratory system through the lungs. Put simply, it seeks to capture what was most recently “floating around” in the bloodstream.

These devices implement the use of a fuel cell to measure alcohol in one’s breath. The key to fuel cell testing is to utilize chemical compounds that create an electrical current only when exposed to Ethyl Alcohol or Ethanol. By determining the electrical current created, the device can determine the amount of alcohol in one’s breath, and thereby estimate the ethanol level in the bloodstream.

What is BAC? What is BrAC? What are Blood and Breath Alcohol Concentrations?

Upon receiving notice of a BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) or BrAC (Breath Alcohol Concentration) that exceeds the legal limit (.08 or Higher), the Clerk of Court is directed to send Notice to the Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles.

Driving While Impaired charges may be brought even in instances when there are low readings and/or where results from a blood sample have not yet been determined. The State may proceed based solely on an Officer’s opinion of Appreciable Impairment.

This means you should NOT assume the case will be automatically dismissed when the reading is low, or when there are no test results due to a Willful Refusal or other reason for lack of BAC or BrAC readings.

I was Marked as a Refusal. What Does that Mean?

A refusal results in an automatic twelve-month (1 Year!) driver’s license suspension. If you deny refusing OR if there are circumstances whereby the charging officer did not have the legal right to demand a sample or otherwise obtained the sample in an improper fashion, you may have the opportunity to challenge the Revocation Notice.

You must challenge the Willful Refusal via formal letter within ten (10) days of the Revocation Notice. This is VERY important to do both correctly and in a timely fashion.

I Didn’t Want to Blow or Give a Blood Sample, but They Made Me. Can I Still Challenge the Results?

In certain circumstances, yes. For example, one cannot be suspended for Willfully Refusing the testing if Probable Cause to arrest for impaired driving did NOT exist. A legal argument can be made against a Compelled Sample in certain circumstances. It is an extremely complex and developing aspect of DWI law and therefore is best discussed with experienced legal counsel after exploring the law and the facts of the charges.

Is Certified Mail Challenging a Willful Refusal Required?

No. But is it the only real proof you requested the hearing in time. If you miss the filing deadline, which is VERY short, YOU WAIVE YOUR RIGHT TO FIGHT THE REFUSAL SUSPENSION. That is true even if you ultimately prevail on the Criminal Charges in Court.

It is our strong belief at Powers Law Firm, PLLC that information and preparation make for good decisions. We want you to understand your DWI case and how the legal system works.

People charged with Driving While Impaired often have a lot of questions such as:

  • What is the worst case scenario?
  • What should I do?
  • Do I have to go to court?
  • What happens to my license?
  • What are the costs?

Hopefully this website, our blog posts, and associated resources can help explain what to expect. There is likely more information we can share about the individual aspects of the case.

Therefore, I encourage you to call now for a free, confidential consultation:


“Helping others, both in good times and bad, is what we do” – Bill Powers

Helpful Information About Criminal Charges
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