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Frequently Asked Questions About DUI Charges in Union County NC
People often refer to the offense of impaired driving using a wide range of different terms, including DUI, DWI, driving under the influence, driving while impaired, driving while intoxicated, and drunk driving. N.C.G.S. 20-138.1 refers to the offense as Impaired Driving. It is a criminal charge involving the operation of a motor vehicle while appreciably impaired by alcohol, medications, and/or drugs. In North Carolina, there is more than one way for the State to prove a person guilty of the offense.
Drunk driving is impaired driving, but you do not need to be drunk or grossly intoxicated to be charged with impaired driving in North Carolina. N.C.G.S. 20-138.1 allows criminal prosecution using several different types of evidence, including being under the influence of an impairing substance while operating any vehicle on a highway, street, or public vehicular area in North Carolina. The State need only prove appreciable impairment.
In North Carolina, the NC DWI law (N.C.G.S. 20-138.1) refers only to impaired driving and does not use the common acronyms DUI and DWI. It is illegal to drive under the influence of an impairing substance. Impairing substances can include alcohol, drugs, and even prescription medications.
The consequences of a DUI conviction in Union County NC, can be severe and may include fines, jail time (in certain circumstances), license suspension, community service, alcohol education programs, and installation of an IID - ignition interlock device. The consequences often depend on the specific circumstances of the case, such as the individual's BAC level, prior DUI convictions, and whether any property damage or injuries occurred. Pursuant to N.C.G.S. 20-179, the Judge is required to conduct a sentencing hearing at which time they will consider properly introduced Mitigating Factors, Aggravating Factors, and Grossly Aggravating Factors.
Hiring a DUI lawyer as soon as possible after being arrested or charged with a DUI is generally recommended. This allows the attorney to begin working on your case immediately, gathering evidence, identifying potential defenses, and preparing for court appearances. Early involvement of legal counsel can significantly impact the outcome of your case.
The Union County Courthouse is located at 400 N. Main Street, Monroe, NC 28112. It is the primary location for all criminal proceedings, including DUI charges in Union County. The courthouse is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:00pm. All visitors are required to pass through a security checkpoint before entering the building. The telephone number for the Union County NC Clerk of Court is (704) 698-3100.
A DUI lawyer in Union County NC can provide valuable guidance and representation throughout the legal process. They can help by:
- Analyzing your case to identify potential defenses or weaknesses in the prosecution's evidence
- Negotiating with the prosecutor to potentially reduce charges related to your DUI such as speeding tickets, reckless driving, and helping to mitigate penalties
- Representing you in court and advocating on your behalf
- Assisting with administrative DMV matters, such as license suspension hearings and obtaining limited driving privileges
In North Carolina, a DUI conviction typically results in a mandatory driver's license suspension. The length of the suspension depends on various factors, including prior DUI convictions and the severity of the current offense. First-time offenders usually face a one-year suspension, while repeat offenders may face longer suspensions or permanent revocation. Each case is different. Consult with legal counsel.
Limited driving privileges (LDP) are a type of restricted driver's license that allow individuals to drive for specific purposes, such as work, school, or court-ordered treatment programs. Eligibility for LDP depends on various factors, including the circumstances of the DUI offense, prior convictions, and whether you have complied with other court requirements. A DUI lawyer can help you determine your eligibility and assist with the application process, which may include obtaining a substance abuse assessment and a DL-123 Driver License Liability Insurance Certification.
Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) are a series of cognitive and physical dexterity tasks designed to help police officers determine if a driver may be impaired by alcohol, drugs, and/or medications. Common SFSTs include the Walk-and-Turn (Heel to Toe), the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, and One-Leg Stand (OLS) tests.
Many police officers in Monroe and Union County, including NC Highway Patrol Troopers, are trained in the administration of SFSTs and the detection of impaired motorists. SFST testing is not foolproof and subject to misinterpretation and human error. When appropriate, SFSTs may be challenged by a DUI lawyer if they believe the tests were improperly administered or the results are unreliable.
Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that requires law enforcement officers to have specific, articulable facts or circumstances that justify stopping a vehicle. Some examples of reasonable suspicion for a DUI stop may include erratic driving, speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, or running a stop sign.
An officer must have a valid reason to believe that a traffic violation or criminal activity has occurred or is about to occur before initiating a stop. While reasonable suspicion is a relatively low legal standard in North Carolina, it cannot be a "gut instinct" or hunch that criminal activity is afoot.
Probable cause is a higher legal standard than reasonable suspicion and requires that an officer have sufficient facts and evidence to believe that a person has committed an impaired driving offense. Probable cause for a DUI arrest may be established through observations of impairment (e.g., slurred speech, unsteady gait, red, glassy eyes, the odor of alcohol), and poor performance on field sobriety tests.
If you are pulled over for a suspected DUI, remaining calm and polite with the officer is important. You should provide your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance when requested. However, you are not required to answer questions about your alcohol consumption or other potentially incriminating information. Politely decline to answer such questions and request to speak with an attorney. Similarly, you are not required to perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).
You are not required to perform SFSTs in North Carolina. However, if you do choose to submit to a field sobriety test, the results could be used as evidence of impairment in court. It is important to remember that even if you pass the tests, an officer may still make an arrest based on other observations or factors.
While the general public often refers to alcohol breath testing as the "Breathalyzer," that device is no longer utilized in North Carolina. The approved roadside, handheld alcohol screening device is referred to as the AlcoSensor. You are not required to submit to the AlcoSensor. The officer may consider refusal to submit to the AlcoSensor in establishing probable cause to arrest. The NC DWI Quick Reference Guide has more information about the alcohol testing devices in North Carolina.
North Carolina is an implied consent jurisdiction (N.C.G.S. 20-16.2.) If requested to submit to a breath test on the Intoximeter EC/IR II, which is an evidentiary breath testing machine in North Carolina, failure to do so may be deemed a Willful Refusal and result in administrative issues and/or suspension. Refusing the EC/IR II test, as well as a urine or blood test, can result in an automatic license suspension, but it may also prevent the prosecution from obtaining potentially incriminating evidence against you.
The cost of retaining a DUI lawyer can vary depending on the complexity of the case and the attorney's experience level. Some attorneys charge a flat fee, while others charge hourly rates. Discussing the fees and payment structure with your potential lawyer during the initial consultation is important.
In North Carolina, a DUI conviction remains on your criminal record indefinitely. However, the impact of the conviction on your driving record and insurance rates may lessen over time. North Carolina does not provide for the opportunity to expunge DUI charges. A DUI charge can have serious consequences, so it's important to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
A DUI conviction is likely to result in substantially higher car insurance rates, as insurance companies consider individuals with DUIs to be high-risk drivers. The increase in rates can vary depending on the specific insurance company and your driving history. A conviction for DUI charges in North Carolina carries 12 motor vehicle and insurance points.
North Carolina has a "zero-tolerance" policy for underage drinking and driving. N.C.G.S. 20-138.3 prohibits driving by persons less than twenty-one (21) years old after consuming drugs, non-therapeutically appropriate amounts of medications, or any amount of alcohol. The offense is punished as a Class 2 misdemeanor in North Carolina. Drivers under 21 who are appreciably impaired may also be charged with a DUI in North Carolina pursuant to N.C.G.S. 20-138.1, the NC impaired driving statute. The consequences for underage impaired driving can be long lasting, including license suspension, fines, community service, and mandatory alcohol education programs.
You can be charged with a DUI if you are found to be impaired while operating a motor vehicle due to prescription medication. The key factor is impairment, not the legality of the substance. If an officer believes that your ability to drive is appreciably impaired by the medication (capable of observation and description), you may face DUI charges in North Carolina. The North Carolina DWI Quick Reference Guide provides more information on impaired driving.
Passengers can potentially face other charges related to impaired driving. Someone aids and abets impaired driving if they knowingly advise, instigate, encourage, or aid another person to drive while impaired and their actions cause or contribute to the commission of the crime. Aiding and abetting may include when a person knowingly gives control of their vehicle to an impaired person, and the impaired driver operates the vehicle on a highway, street, or public vehicular area while the owner is a passenger.
North Carolina law makes it illegal to Aid and Abet impaired driving. The NC DWI laws set forth that when a vehicle owner places their motor vehicle in the hands of an intoxicated driver (impaired driver), sits by their side, and permits them, without protest, to operate the vehicle on a public highway while in a state of intoxication (impairment), they are as guilty as the person at the wheel. Passengers can also face charges for possession of an open container of alcohol, providing alcohol to a minor, or other alcohol-related offenses.
A DUI conviction can have potential consequences on your employment, particularly if your job involves driving or requires a CDL. Some employers have policies against hiring individuals with DUI convictions, and a conviction for impaired driving in North Carolina may also impact your ability to obtain certain professional licenses. It is important to consult with a DUI lawyer to understand the full range of consequences a conviction may have on your life.
An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breathalyzer-like device installed in a vehicle that requires the driver to provide a breath sample before starting the car. If the device detects alcohol above a predetermined limit, the vehicle will not start. North Carolina also requires something called "rolling tests," which require the driver to take additional breath samples while driving.
Ignition interlock devices are typically required following an impaired driving conviction in North Carolina when the BAC is 0.15 or higher. NCDMV may also require the installation of an IID as a condition of restoration in certain circumstances, including reinstatement after revocation due to the willful refusal to submit to an evidentiary urine, breath, or blood test.
In certain circumstances, you can be charged with a DUI even if you are not actively driving the vehicle. North Carolina law prohibits individuals from being in "actual physical control" of a vehicle while impaired. This means that if you are found in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition and have the ability to operate the vehicle, you could potentially face DUI charges.
Understanding the complexities of DUI laws and the potential consequences of a conviction can be daunting. Consulting with an experienced DUI attorney in Union County NC, can help you navigate the legal process and protect your rights. Remember that each case is unique, and the specific circumstances of your situation will dictate the best course of action.