Frequently Asked Questions About DUI Charges in Charlotte NC
While people often refer to the offense of impaired driving as drunk driving, DUI, and DWI, the North Carolina DWI law is simply entitled "impaired driving." The law does not use the terms DUI, DWI, or drunk driving. There is more than one way to be convicted, including proof of a BAC of .08 or higher. The offense of impaired driving also includes operating a vehicle under the influence of an impairing substance, including alcohol, drugs, and prescriptions. You do not need to be drunk to be convicted of Impaired Driving under N.C.G.S. 20-138.1. A simple way to think about it is this: All drunk drivers are impaired drivers, but not all impaired drivers are drunk drivers.
In North Carolina, the general public tends to use the acronyms DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Impaired or Driving While Intoxicated) interchangeably. DUI and DWI relate to operating a motor vehicle while appreciably impaired by alcohol or other drugs and medications. N.C.G.S. 20-138.1 defines what is impaired driving and evidence of appreciable impairment. As a practical matter, it does not matter if you refer to the offense as driving while impaired, driving while intoxicated, drunk driving, or driving under the influence, DWI, or DUI; the legal consequences and penalties are the same.
The consequences of a DUI conviction can be severe and may include license suspension or revocation, fines, jail time (in certain circumstances), community service, substance abuse treatment, and higher insurance rates. The severity of the penalties depends on factors such as the driver's BAC, prior DWI/DUI convictions, whether there was a child under the age of 18 in the vehicle, and whether an accident or injuries were involved. Pursuant to N.C.G.S. 20-179, during a sentencing hearing, the judge takes into consideration grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, and mitigating factors. DWI sentencing factors may be found in the NC DWI Quick Reference Guide.
Hiring a lawyer as soon as possible after being charged with a DUI is advisable. This allows the attorney to gather evidence, prepare your defense, and advise you on the best course of action. The sooner you obtain legal representation, the better your chances of navigating the complex legal process, mitigating the possible consequences of a conviction, and achieving a favorable outcome.
A lawyer can help by reviewing the facts of your case, advising you on an appropriate course of action, and representing you in court. They may be able to identify weaknesses in the prosecution's case or present evidence that could assist in negotiations with the State or possibly serve as the basis for motions to suppress, motions to dismiss, and/or dismissal. Additionally, an experienced DUI attorney may be able to help you navigate the administrative process of license suspension and work to obtain limited driving privileges when that is authorized under the NC DWI laws.
In North Carolina, a DUI conviction usually results in a license revocation. The length of the revocation depends on factors such as prior convictions and the specific circumstances of your case. A first-time DUI conviction typically results in a one-year revocation, while repeat offenders may face longer revocation periods. Each case, like each fact pattern and person accused of impaired driving, is unique. As such, it makes sense to immediately consult with an experienced DUI lawyer in Charlotte NC.
In some cases, limited driving privileges may be granted following a DUI conviction. Some people refer to limited privileges as a hardship license, “paper license,” or work privileges. Limited privileges typically allow drivers to travel to and from work, school, community service, religious services, and court-ordered treatment programs. Eligibility for limited driving privileges depends on factors such as the nature of the offense, prior convictions, and the driver's compliance with license revocation requirements. In certain circumstances, the Court (the judge) may authorize driving to comply with a child custody Order and/or visitation.
Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) are a series of tests that law enforcement officers use to determine if a driver is impaired. The three most common SFSTs are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test. While these tests can provide evidence of impairment, they are not foolproof and may be subject to errors or bias. An experienced DUI attorney will carefully examine the administration of SFSTs, determining whether there is a legal basis to challenge the validity of the SFSTs and potentially weaken the prosecution's case.
Reasonable suspicion is the legal standard required for a law enforcement officer to stop a driver and investigate a possible DUI. It is a lower standard than probable cause. Examples of reasonable suspicion include erratic driving, speeding, weaving between lanes, or other traffic violations that may indicate impairment. Reasonable suspicion must be particularized. It cannot be a hunch, based on speculation, or a "gut instinct." An experienced Charlotte NC DUI attorney can evaluate the circumstances surrounding your traffic stop to determine whether it was lawful and in compliance with all applicable laws.
In North Carolina, a numerical value on an AlcoSensor FST (handheld breath/alcohol screening device) is not required. In fact, officers’ testimony is often limited to whether the AlcoSensor indicated either positive or negative for alcohol. The State is not required to present evidence of a BAC of .08 or higher to prosecute impaired driving charges. The willful refusal to provide a blood, breath, or urine sample may be used as evidence against the accused at trial. The prosecution must still prove impairment beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction. An experienced DUI attorney in Charlotte NC can help you explore all of your options and prepare a defense strategy for your charges.
Probable cause is the legal standard required for law enforcement officers to arrest drivers for DUI. The police officer must have sufficient evidence to believe that the driver is appreciably impaired by alcohol, medications, and/or drugs. Probable cause can be established through observations of the driver's behavior, performance on field sobriety tests, or other evidence, such as an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, red, glassy eyes, slurred speech, and unsteadiness on feet. Under the NC DWI laws, reasonable grounds and probable cause are synonymous terms. Probable cause is a higher legal standard than reasonable suspicion.
In North Carolina, drivers are subject to the implied consent law, which means that by obtaining a driver's license, it is inferred you agree to submit to an evidentiary breath test or other approved chemical test if charged with DUI. The evidentiary breath testing device used in North Carolina is the Intoximeter EC/IR II. Blood and urine testing are also approved methods to determine BAC. While commonly referred to as the "breathalyzer," that type of breath test device has not been utilized in North Carolina since the early 1990's. Refusing a breath test, blood test, or urine test can result in an immediate license suspension and may be used as evidence against you in court. However, it is important to note that the consequences of refusing to provide a sample may be less severe than those associated with a DUI conviction.
The penalties for a first-time DUI conviction in North Carolina may include a license revocation, fines, court costs, community service, substance abuse assessment and treatment, and possible jail time in certain circumstances. The specific penalties can depend on factors such as your BAC - Blood Alcohol Concentration, whether there was an accident or serious injuries involved, whether there was a minor (child under the age of 18 years old) in the vehicle, and the existence of factors in mitigation. Pursuant to N.C.G.S. 20-179, during a sentencing hearing, the sentencing judge may consider mitigating factors, aggravating factors, and grossly aggravating factors. For more information about DWI punishments in North Carolina, check out the NC DWI Quick Reference Guide.
A DUI conviction can have lasting consequences beyond the immediate legal penalties. It may result in a criminal record, which can affect your employment prospects, educational opportunities, and housing options. Additionally, a DUI conviction can lead to higher insurance rates and may impact your ability to obtain certain professional licenses.
The cost of retaining a lawyer for a DUI case can vary depending on the complexity of the case, the attorney's experience, and the local market. Some attorneys charge a flat fee, while others bill by the hour. When hiring a DUI attorney, it is important to discuss fees and payment arrangements upfront. While legal representation can be expensive, the potential consequences of a DUI conviction make it a worthwhile investment for many individuals.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Courthouse is located at 832 East 4th Street, Charlotte, NC 28202. The courthouse is open Monday - Friday from 8:00 am - 5:00 pm with the exception of judicial holidays. State Court proceedings are held in the courthouse, and the related court files can also be found there. The United States District Court, Western District of North Carolina's (federal court - Charlotte court) location is 401 W Trade Street, Charlotte, NC 28202. The telephone number for the Mecklenburg County Clerk of Court is (704) 686-0400.
Courtroom 1130 in Charlotte NC is a courtroom located in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. It serves as an administrative court for DWI/DUI cases, traffic offenses, and many misdemeanor criminal charges in Mecklenburg County. Trials are not handled in Courtroom 1130. If properly retained, legal counsel may appear on behalf of the accused in Courtroom 1130. The presiding District Court judge in Courtroom 1130 varies. If you have been charged with a DUI offense and are scheduled to appear in Courtroom 1130, it is advisable to immediately contact a qualified attorney for legal advice and representation. Even for traffic citations, such as speeding tickets and other infractions, it is important to be prepared and informed prior to appearing before the judge. Neither the judge nor the prosecutor are allowed under the law to provide legal advice. Having an attorney advocate on your behalf can help ensure that your rights are fully protected.