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First Offense DUI Penalties: DWI in North Carolina

Criminal A DWI first offense in North Carolina can be deceptively punitive and create 1st DUI offense penalties that may be felt for years to come. Unfortunately, too many people arrested for driving while impaired underestimate the possible career devastation caused by a DUI conviction, the social stigma of criminal charges, and a criminal arrest history.

Impaired driving is a serious offense in North Carolina. There can be long-term consequences for a conviction, including big-picture items like:

  1. Loss of license
  2. Increased Insurance Premiums
  3. Probation

If convicted, even a first DWI offense (alcohol or drugs) may never come off a person's criminal history. That’s because there is presently no way to obtain an DWI expunction or “expungement” of DWI charges in North Carolina, if found guilty or convicted, even after the passage of a substantial amount of time.

“People regularly call our law office, asking whether they can get their old DWI charges expunged. As a defense lawyer, it's sad to hear them explain what the conviction cost them personally. Unfortunately, some people didn’t take the charges seriously until it’s too late.”

– Bill Powers, DWI Defense Attorney

Convictions do not “drop off” automatically and there is no currently no administrative relief to remove them from your record unless the DWI in North Carolina is dismissed by the Court, the District Attorney, or accused is found Not Guilty after a trial.

Penalties for 1st Offense DUI

In North Carolina, driving while impaired is technically referred to as “DWI.” Google searches indicate most people still refer to the offense as “DUI” or “drunk driving.”

For the purposes of discussion, impaired driving may involve both legal and illegal substances. It doesn’t much matter if you personally prefer call it one of the many acronyms such as DWI, DUI, OWI, OUI, OWAI, et al. Don’t worry, if you call our office, we’ll understand what you’re talking about.

You may be appreciably impaired by alcohol and even prescription drugs. Often times people associate “being under the influence” with drinking and being “drunk.” DWI charges are not limited to alcohol alone.

Impairment, as a matter of law, is a bit more expansive in nature. DWI in North Carolina also does not require being drunk. It requires only a noticeable or perceptible loss of mental and/or physical functions. The controlled substance, and how it affects the person charged or arrested, need only be “appreciable.”

As such, it doesn’t matter whether you call if a 1st offense DUI or DWI. The court system covers impairment by all substances under N.C.G.S. 20-138.1. The key is whether someone is legally impaired by those substances, which may be proven in several different ways.

DUI / DWI Guidebook for Navigating the Legal System

After being arrested for a DUI first offense, some people automatically assume they have no chance for a positive outcome. Thus, some accused of a first DUI offence for being under the influence of alcohol, or impaired by drugs, choose to represent themselves, pleading guilty without fully considering the charges and whether legal defenses may exist.

We believe that’s a mistake.

DWI charges carry consequences. They deserve a careful review, by an experienced criminal defense lawyer, of the facts and law surrounding the charges. Even if a guilty plea is the most appropriate option, criminal lawyers help guide people through the court system and NCDMV.

We also think it’s a mistake to assume, “North Carolina DUI laws first DUI penalties are only a misdemeanor, which is no big deal.”

Most offenders focus more on avoiding jail time, which makes sense. It’s also a good idea to consider a possible administrative license suspension and future DUI car insurance costs.

Other DUI punishments can be added under DWI sentencing under N.C.G.S. 20-179 such as community service hours and being referred to an alcohol and drug counselor for assessment of drug or alcohol dependency and treatment, where needed

NC DWI Laws: Quick Reference Guide

This DUI 1st offense article explains why a first time DUI-DWI can mean trouble. A first time DUI offense can come back to haunt you in unexpected ways.

Think ahead to the financial impact to your insurance rating, being placed in the “reinsurance facility” or other high-risk insurance group, or how having an ignition interlock device ** could curtail both your business life and personal relationships.

**An ignition interlock “blow and go” is NOT required in every instance; but, it’s important to fully understand the nature and consequences of your individual criminal charges and when an interlock may or may not be required.

Under North Carolina DWI laws, the arrested driver may have both an administrative suspension and a criminal suspension to endure. These suspensions are related both to the implied consent law in North Carolina and to NC DWI laws, which are explained more fully below and in the attached links to our website.

An ignition interlock may be required, together with other condition-precedents, if the BAC was .15 or higher and the accused is found guilty or pleads guilty.

The “blow and go” may also be required by NCDMV as an administrative conditional restoration after a conviction with an .15 blood alcohol concentration or higher, as proven by breath tests, blood testing, and/or urine testing. It also may be required pursuant to a conditional restoration hearing for multiple DWI convictions or even after a Willful Refusal.

The interlock laws in North Carolina (and DWI laws) are notoriously complex. Each case is different.

We recommend you call our office for a free consultation or speak with another attorney well-versed in the NC DWI laws to explain your legal options given your unique circumstances and DWI charges.

Call Bill Powers NOW: 704-342-4357

You may also reach Bill Powers directly by email: Bill@CarolinaAttorneys.com

DWI License Suspension for Refusal and if Convicted of Driving Under the Influence

When a person has refused a breath alcohol test (or blood test or urine test) under N.C.G.S. 20-16.2 notice of a Willful Refusal is required to be “transmitted” (sent) to NCDMV for administrative action.

Under the NC Implied Consent Law, willfully refusing to submit to testing pursuant to an “implied consent” offense is supposed to result in the immediate suspension of a NC driver license.

In North Carolina, refusing to submit to breath testing using Intoximeters EC-IR II machine authorizes the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to automatically suspend your driver's license. Blowing a .08 or higher also authorizes an immediate 30-day suspension.

Refusing to submit to a blood testing, again consistent with 20-16.2, also may result in the designation of a Willful Refusal and the negative consequences associated with a refusal.

An officer may apply for and receive a search warrant for your blood, which will reveal the blood alcohol level or concentration relative to operation of the motor vehicle in the case. Blood testing can also involve testing for substances other than alcohol, including marijuana, benzodiazepines, and other legal and illegal controlled substances.

In some instances, a blood sample may be “compelled,” even without a valid Search Warrant.

An NC DMV administrative suspension can be extended all the way to lasting for a full year and this is for the first-time DUI-DWI offender.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may qualify for a limited driving permit after six months of this suspension has been served and if the DWI charges have been handled/closed out and all the conditions of the judgment are in compliance, including but not limited to:

  1. Payment in full of all court costs, fines, and community service fees; and,
  2. Alcohol Assessment / Substance Abuse Assessment and compliance with all recommended terms; and,
  3. Completion of Community Service, as directed; and,
  4. Completion of any active sentence, jail time, special period of confinement or incarceration, if any, of the judgment.

An administrative license suspension is not the only loss of license penalty you may face. Once you have been convicted of a DWI, the court may suspend your license as an aspect of the punishment. This suspension may be in addition to any that is imposed by the DMV.

**The Court is granted tremendous discretion in whether to authorize a Limited Driving Privilege. That applies also to a Limited Driving Privilege Willful Refusal. At the same time, that discretion is not without limits. NCDMV may supersede or “disallow” a Limited Privilege in the event it is not authorized under the law and/or subject to some other administrative revocation or suspension.

Who is Considered a First Offender under NC DWI Laws?

While this article covers the penalties that would be imposed for a first offense DUI, NC technically has an unlimited “lookback” period.

For the purposes of an active jail sentence or period of incarceration, it’s important to consider the 7-year “lookback” as defined as a Grossly Aggravating Factor. That period is measured by date of last conviction to date of new arrest.

Courts are authorized in certain circumstances to consider convictions outside the 7-year look back.

This method of determining what is a second offense DUI-DWI is one of the more inclusive/expansive of any state's DWI/DUI laws. Of course, the person facing his or her first offense in their lifetime would hope for the lowest level of punishment in the Tar Heel State (Level V).

It’s possible to get active jail time even with no prior DWI conviction in North Carolina. A prior conviction for DWI is but one factor the Court must consider at the sentencing hearing, obviously assuming there is a conviction in the first place.

Our senior DWI attorneys (Bill Powers) has decades of legal experience. We firmly believe hiring an experienced DWI lawyer to investigate and litigate your DWI in NC is a smart move. Loss of driving privileges for a DWI conviction is a penalty that disrupts daily life.

Even a temporary, administrative revocation/suspension can adversely affect your ability to drive, to work, and to provide for your family.

The Harsh Truth About Conviction for a North Carolina 1st offense DUI

DWI charges The consequences and penalties associated with a first DUI offense in NC may be considered “harsh” by some. Others think the NC DWI laws related to a driving under the influence conviction need to be more severe, especially instances where someone is hurt or killed due to “drunk driving.”

The key word is “conviction.” Convictions for allegations of criminal charges are ordinarily associated with criminal law, so the answer to “is DUI a criminal offense in North Carolina” is, YES. It’s important to consider that there can also be civil, administrative consequences of a charge, arrest, and/or conviction for DWI in North Carolina.

There are also instances when DWI charges can be a felony offense in North Carolina such as habitual DWI. Impaired Driving may also serve as a predicate offense for other, related criminal charges including:

  1. Felony Death by Vehicle
  2. Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle
  3. Involuntary Manslaughter
  4. Second Degree Murder
  5. Aggravated Felony Death by Vehicle
  6. Aggravated Felony Injury by Vehicle

As to the issue of whether DWI charges in North Carolina are felony or misdemeanor charges, it depends on the facts and circumstances of the case, prior criminal record, and individual circumstances of the criminal charges.

Additionally, a DWI conviction is for LIFE, since driving while impaired (DWI) is a crime for which no deferment, expungement or criminal record restriction is EVER available in North Carolina (under the current NC DWI laws).

Plus, the DWI in North Carolina will be on your driving record for police and prosecutors to see for LIFE if convicted. It will be visible on DPS, BMV, DMV records across all states.

North Carolina’s DWI law prohibits driving or being in control of a vehicle while appreciably impaired. The DWI laws of North Carolina also prohibit driving or being in control of a vehicle while the driver is:

  1. under the influence of any impairing substance, whether alcohol, drugs or vapors;
  2. having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams percent or more as revealed by a “breathalyzer” chemical test or crime laboratory result; or
  3. by having any amount of a Schedule 1 controlled substance (or the metabolites of such chemicals or drugs) in the person's blood or urine.

North Carolina can be tough on DWI offenders. North Carolina DWI offenders are sentenced based on consideration of grossly aggravating, aggravating, and mitigating factors. The scale includes six levels of misdemeanor DWI—Level A1 (“aggravated”) being the most and level V the least serious.

Related Legal Issues / DWI Charges in North Carolina
  1. DWI Expungement – Can I Get My Driving While Impaired Arrest in North Carolina Expunged?
  2. What Happens to Your License After a DWI Arrest
  3. What is a Civil Revocation?
  4. Is DUI a Felony in North Carolina?
  5. Sentencing Under the North Carolina DWI Laws
  6. What's the Difference Between DUI and DWI?
Client Reviews
★★★★★
I am so fortunate to have had Bill Powers on my case. Upon our first meeting, Bill insisted that through the emotions of anger, sadness, confusion, and betrayal that I remain resilient. He was available to answer questions with researched, logical, truthful answers throughout our two year stretch together. I went to any lengths for my case because he won my trust almost immediately... J.R.
★★★★★
My daughter had a second DUI and when it all seemed hopeless, Bill was able to get the charges dropped. This is a man who is extremely knowledgeable, yet still keeps his integrity which was impressive to me. He handles himself with dignity. If you hire him, you will have the best of the best, along with his expansive intellect and wisdom about the law. Lisa
★★★★★
Bill Powers’ staff has handled several traffic citations for me over the years, and they exceeded my expectations each and every time. Would highly recommend anyone faced with a traffic citation or court case contact his office and they will handle it from there. M.C.
★★★★★
Bill and his staff are flat out great. I (unfortunately) was a repeat customer after a string of tickets. These guys not only took care of the initial ticket for me, but went the extra mile and reduced my problems from 3 to just 1 (very minor one) on the same day I called back! I would recommend them to anyone. A.R.