North Carolina’s DWI Law
- My license was seized by the officer, or revoked. How can I get my driving privileges?
- My license was revoked by the officer. When will my driving license be restored?
- How long will my case take to resolve?
- What is an “alcohol assessment” and why should I get one?
- My alcohol assessment recommends that I take additional classes. Should I do that?
- When I was stopped, I blew below a .08 on the breathalyzer machine. Will I still face charges, and can I be convicted of a DWI even though I blew below a .08?
- What if I blew above a .08? Am I automatically going to be convicted?
- I’ve heard that breathalyzer machines are bogus and not reliable. Is there any way to challenge their reliability?
- I was charged with additional crimes at the time of my arrest? How will these affect my DWI case?
- What are the consequences of a DWI conviction?
- What are aggravating and mitigating factors?
- What are grossly aggravating factors?
- What if I’m convicted of a DWI? Will I be prevented from driving for an entire year?
- How will a DWI conviction affect my insurance rates?
- What is the process in the court system?
- I’ve heard Wake County is a tough county for DWI defendants. Is this true?
- What are your rates? And how can I pay for your services?
- All of these fees and potential fines are expensive. How can I afford them all? Is a lawyer even necessary?
- Your rates seem high. I’ve seen attorneys who charge less than that. Should I go for the cheapest attorney?
- How can I schedule a free consultation with you?
In most cases, your license is revoked for a thirty (30) day period following a DWI arrest. In many cases, you can have a restoration of “limited driving privileges” after just ten (10) days. You will need to undergo an “alcohol assessment,” provide proof of current insurance, provide your seven (7) year driving history. We can complete the petition filed on your behalf to ask the court for these privileges.
Normally the court will grant you driving privileges from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m Monday through Friday. If you go to work earlier or later than those times or need to work on weekends, the court will usually extend those hours if you provide the court with a letter from your employer.
We can make the appearance in court for you so you don’t have to take time from your busy life to get your “limited driving privileges.”
If you apply for “limited driving privileges,” your limited driving privileges can be granted as soon as ten (10) days after your DWI stop.
If you decide not to apply for “limited driving privileges,” in most cases you will get your license back thirty (30) days after the DWI stop. You will need to pay $100 fee to the Court for this restoration. We can pay that fee on your behalf so that you are not required to come to court to retrieve your license.
It depends. If you’re stopped today, you’ll probably be given a court date within two months. You could resolve the case that day. That would require you to plead guilty.
Obviously we almost never advise clients to plead guilty on the first court appearance. Even though you’re probably very anxious to get this behind you, the faster you plea, the worse the consequences. The reason is that most District Attorneys offer their worst “deals” at the first court appearance. They figure you’re anxious to get it behind you, and anxious to do anything they ask.
In reality, a DWI case can take anywhere from six (6) to nine (9) months. The reason is that Wake County has an enormous number of cases, not just DWI cases. The courts are slow to process them all. We’ve had clients who have waited two (2) years for a resolution to their case. Your case probably won’t last that long, but it can typically last months.
Finally, we advise all clients that they should expect a trial. It’s your right to have a trial. A trial is sometimes your best chance for a successful resolution of your case. A trial won’t be scheduled for six (6) to nine (9) months. So hold tight and relax.
The good news is that after the initial suspension of your license, you really have nothing to do until the resolution of the case. At most, you may need to make a few short court appearances until either a trial, dismissal, or plea arrangement is reached. You will probably want to complete any alcohol education classes that have been recommended. But otherwise, you can live your life.
An alcohol assessment is an hour-long evaluation provided by a private agency approved by the state of North Carolina. They’ll ask you questions about how frequently you drink, how much you drink, and other behavioral issues. You can visit our page on local treatment agencies.
Ultimately the agency will make a recommendation to you about further treatment, if any, you should undergo. If no treatment is advised, you will need to at least complete an ADETS course, which is a 16-hour course about why it’s important not to drink and drive. In many cases, the agency will at least recommend a 20-hour class. In some cases, the agency will recommend more intensive treatment.
If you want to restore your limited driving privileges during the thirty (30) day initial suspension, you must provide an alcohol assessment and proof of at least pre-enrollment to the court. Therefore, the sooner you get your alcohol assessment, the sooner you or your lawyer can petition for limited driving privileges.
In addition, an alcohol assessment is also valuable if you later plead guilty or are convicted of a DWI, as it can be used as evidence of a mitigating factor.
An alcohol assessment will cost $100. While we can’t recommend a specific agency, my clients have generally used Southlight, First Steps, or Costran.
You can have the agency fax your lawyer your “alcohol assessment” directly. If you hire me, my fax number is (919) 249-1396.
If you wish to restore your limited driving privileges, the petition you sign states that you will take such classes. So the answer is generally “yes.”
In addition, if you end up pleading guilty or being found guilty by a judge or a jury, the fact that you have completed any recommended alcohol treatment programs will make a difference to the judge who must sentence you following conviction.
Therefore, if you can afford to take those classes, you should do so. The 20-hour class that is frequently recommended costs between $400 and $500, and involves classes on the weekends or in the evenings. You can work those classes into your schedule.
Yes. We’ve seen many cases that involve a breathalyzer result of .07 or below. In fact, there are occasionally cases where the person blew a .00. Why?
First, the Wake County District Attorney is very slow to dismiss any DWI charges initiated by the police.
These cases are frustrating, but if you blow below a .08, you have a reasonable – possibly even an excellent chance – of being found not-guilty by a jury. The reason is that many jurors view a result of .07 or less as an indication that you were not drunk.
Second, in some cases where other substances – marijuana or other drugs or prescribed medicine – are suspected, the DA will argue that a .07 or below merely shows that the person wasn’t drunk on alcohol. The DA will argue that the person could’ve been impaired on pot or some other drug or medicine.
Third, the DA will sometimes argue that the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of .07 was lower because you were tested a half hour after the stop. The DA will argue that the BAC was probably above a .08 at the time of the stop.
Finally, North Carolina law specifically allows the DA to prove you were impaired in one of two ways. Either the DA can prove you had a BAC of .08 or higher. Or the DA can prove that you were “appreciably impaired” at the time you were driving. Proof of appreciable impairment could include any observations made by police or witnesses: for instance, maybe the car swerved a lot, maybe you slurred your words while talking at the stop, maybe he smelled alcohol, or maybe you made statements that indicated you were appreciably impaired.
In reality, if you did blow below a .08, your case is much stronger, in large part because many juries will not convict if they believe your BAC did not exceed the legal limit.
We love these sorts of cases, because they are cases that may be won at trial.
Not necessarily. Obviously, the higher you blow, the tougher your case may be. But these are cases that really demand a good DWI attorney.
First, there are arguments for your lawyer to make about the circumstances leading up to your arrest.
In the United States, police are not allowed to – or should not be allowed to – stop people at random and arrest them for DWIs. If the police did not have some suspicion that allowed them to stop your car, the entire stop may have been unconstitutional, and the whole case could be thrown out.
I’ve had a client who was driving entirely properly. There was nothing wrong with his car, and his license and registration was in perfect order. After approaching his door, the police alleged that his headlights were out. However, they were automatic headlights, and clearly on. This case is a perfect example of an unlawful stop, and any subsequent DWI charge will be dismissed if the stop is ruled unlawful.
Second, there may be reasons to suspect that the breathalyzer exam was conducted improperly, or by an officer who had not taken up-to-date certification classes. In these cases, the results of the exam may be inadmissible, and therefore the defendant will likely be found not-guilty.
Third, there may be reasons to believe that the breathalyzer exam read a higher-than-proper result. For instance, certain medical conditions, including certain diets like the Adkins Diet, can induce conditions in the body that generate chemicals that produce abnormally high breathalyzer results. For these reasons, your DWI lawyer should ask for a brief medical history so that he can assess whether any of these conditions affected your results.
Fourth, you may have consumed your last drink immediately before getting into the car. If that was the case, the breathalyzer exam, conducted thirty (30) minutes after your stop may give a higher reading than you had at the time of your stop.
There are other reasons to explain a high BAC reading, and other ways to challenge a breathalyzer that was improperly given or given without you being informed of your rights.
It’s true. Breathalyzer machines are not very accurate. The problem is that North Carolina is one of the few states that prohibits defense attorneys from challenging the scientific reliability of breathalyzer machines. Until the state’s Supreme Court changes its mind, there’s little chance that any court will accept a scientific challenge to the machine.
On a positive note, many courts around the country are beginning to realize just who faulty and unreliable these breathalyzer machines. The bad news is that change will probably be slow in coming to North Carolina, and too late to help in your case.
I’ve had clients who have been arrested on a DWI, and have been found in possession of marijuana. And other clients who have been charged with traffic violations. And still other clients who have faced charges like “open container” violations.
The good news is that, if you ever decide to plead guilty to the DWI charge, most Wake County District Attorneys will dismiss those other charges as part of the plea deal.
The bad news is that a DWI charge is more serious than a simple drug possession charge, or an “open container” charge. And so while you should be concerned about other criminal charges or infractions, you shouldn’t let those charges cloud your thinking about the DWI.
We always focus on the DWI – assuming there aren’t other very serious crimes charged – with the idea that if we tackle that charge, other charges can be handled at the same time. (If there are more serious charges involved – like felony possession of a drug with intent to sell, gun charges, and so forth – we are ready to handle those as well.)
In short, the DWI charge is the charge that will affect your ability to drive, and will cost you the most in terms of fines and insurance rate increases. If you hire me as your attorney, we’ll focus on that charge, keeping in mind the other charges that also need to be addressed.
If you’ve been charged with Driving While Impaired (N.C.G.S 20-138.1) and you are convicted by a judge or a jury or plead guilty to those charges, you are eligible for one (1) of six (6) levels of punishment.
Level 5 is the most lenient level. If the “mitigating” (positive) factors substantially outweigh the “aggravating” (negative) factors in your case, you will be sentenced to a Level 5 punishment, which involves at least 24 hours of community service (or 24 hours in jail), fines of up to $200, costs, and a one-year suspension of your driver’s license. Jail is very rarely imposed, so don’t worry about serving jail time.
Level 4 will be imposed if the “mitigating” (positive) factors balance out the “aggravating” (negative) factors in your case. You will be sentenced to at least 48 hours of community service (or jail time) to be completed within 60 days of conviction, a fine of up to $500, costs, and suspension of your license for a year. Again, jail time is rarely imposed at the District Court level.
Level 3 will be imposed if the “aggravating” (negative) factors substantially outweigh the “mitigating” (positive) factors in your case. You will be eligible for 72 hours of community service (or jail time) to be completed within 90 days of conviction, a fine of up to $1,000, and suspension of your license for a year. There’s a serious chance that jail time may be imposed for a Level 3 DWI.
Level 2 will be imposed if there is one grossly aggravating factor in your case. In this case, you will serve at least 7 days of jail time, and as much as 12 months. These are fairly severe cases. In addition, fines of up to $2,000 will be imposed, in addition to costs.
Level 1 will be imposed if there are two grossly aggravating factors in your case or if the DWI offender had a minor under the age of 18 in the car at the time of the offense.. In this case, you will serve at least 30 days in jail, and possibly up to 24 months, in addition to up to $4,000 in fines, plus costs. With the possible exception of Misdemeanor Sexual Battery, this is the second most severe misdemeanor on the books in North Carolina.
Aggravated Level 1 will be imposed if there are more than two grossly aggravating factors in your case. In this case, you will serve at least 120 days in jail, and possibly up to 3 years in prison, and be fined up to $10,000 in addition to other punishments, including the loss of your right to drive.
Think of mitigating factors as little “gold stars” and aggravating factors as little “sad faces.” You want to have more “gold stars” than “sad faces” if you are ever convicted or plead guilty to a DWI. That’s because the judge will sentence you according to one of the six (6) levels described above. Being a “Level 5″ DWI defendant is much better than being a “Level 3″ DWI defendant.
Aggravating factors include: 1) gross impairment (0.15 or more), 2) especially reckless or dangerous driving, 3) negligent driving leading to a reportable accident, 4) two or more prior convictions for 3-point driving offenses within the preceding 5 years before the offense, 5) conviction of a prior DWI more than 7 years before the instant offense, 6) conviction of speeding to elude apprehension, 7) conviction of speeding at least 30 miles over the legal limit, 8) passing a stopped school bus, or 9) any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.
Mitigating factors include: 1) slight impairment (0.09 or less), 2) safe and lawful driving at the time of the offense, 3) statutory safe driving record (no driving offenses for which at least 4 points are assigned within 5 years of date of offense), 4) impairment by lawfully prescribed drugs within prescribed dosage, 5) voluntary submission to DWI-alcohol assessment and participation in recommended treatment, or 6) any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense (including, for some judges, “polite and cooperative”).
As you can see, getting an “assessment” and completing treatment prior to your appearance in court is a “mitigating factor” that can help offset any aggravating factors you may have in your case.
These are more serious factors that can put you in Level 1 or Level 2 DWI sentencing grids. If a “grossly aggravating” factor is found by the judge, the judge will not weigh “mitigating” or “aggravating” factors. Instead, he will go straight to Leve 1 or Level 2.
If you think a grossly aggravating factor is present in your case, you absolutely should talk to an attorney.
Grossly aggravating factors include: 1) a prior DWI conviction within the preceding 7 years, 2) DWLR under NCGS §§ 20—27 and the revocation was for an impaired driving offense, 3) serious injury to another caused by the Defendant’s impaired driving, 4) and having a person under 18 years of age in the vehicle at the time of the offense (which requires a Level 1 sentence).
The answer is it depends. In many cases, you will be eligible for “limited driving privileges,” which is a determination made by the judge usually at the time of sentencing. The judge will usually permit you to have “limited driving privileges” in order to get from work or home, usually between the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
If you need those hours extended, you can provide a letter from an employer or from your school if you’re a student, that explains to the judge your need to drive later in the evening or earlier in the morning. In some cases, people convicted of DWIs maybe given 24-hour a day “limited driving privileges.”
This is a question that only your insurance company can answer. A DWI conviction generally means 8 points on your insurance record. If you have a concern, you can talk to your insurance company about hypotheticals. But don’t admit anything to an insurance agent.
Generally, all misdemeanors – a standard DWI is a misdemeanor – start in District Court. There are no juries in District Court. Only judges. In addition, there is no “record” or stenographer in District Court.
If you are found not-guilty by a District Court judge, then your case is over. You’re done. You don’t have to pay any court costs or fines, no jail sentence, no community service. You can thank your attorney, and pay the final installment of his fees, if necessary!
If you are found guilty by a District Court judge, which is common in District Court trials, you have two options. You can accept the verdict, pay your fines, do your community service, and pay your costs.
Or you can appeal to Superior Court. Every defendant who is convicted in District Court has an automatic right of appeal to Superior Court.
In Superior Court you have the right to a jury trial. Defendants do much better in front of juries. That’s because juries are made up of people like you. People who may have had a drink or two before driving. People who understand and are ready to forgive mistakes. And people who are more likely to be persuaded by a defense attorney’s arguments than a judge who has “heard it all before.”
Acquittal rates – not-guilty rates – are much higher in Superior Court. Only you can decide – with the advice of your attorney – whether to appeal a case to Superior Court.
I purposely structure my rates so that my clients are not financially burdened if they decide to appeal to Superior Court. That’s because we like trying cases in front of a jury. We like questioning officers on the stand. And we like poking holes in the prosecution’s case.
If you decide to hire me to handle your case, and you ultimately decide to take your case to Superior Court in order to try to get a not-guilty jury verdict, we will do my best to make that financially possible for you, and try the heck out of the case!
If you’re ultimately convicted in Superior Court, you face the same kinds of penalties that you would’ve gotten in District Court. The costs of Superior Court are a bit higher than District Court, but usually not a factor in deciding whether to appeal. Otherwise, you will face the same kinds of sentencing options – Level 5 to Aggravated Level 1 – as described above.
Yes. Wake County is notorious as one of the tougher counties in North Carolina when it comes to DWI charges. That’s because the Wake County District Attorney doesn’t dismiss many cases, including weak cases. And the Wake County District Attorney rarely pleads down cases to lower charges. Most DWI defendants have to fight for their rights, whether it’s in District Court or Superior Court.
A good DWI lawyer can help you navigate the system, and achieve the best resolution available to you, whether it is a not-guilty verdict, a dismissal (even if they’re rare), or plea that serves your interests.
I charge between $1,500 and $3,000 to handle the case in District Court. Because we enjoy trying cases in Superior Court, we will try to make the Superior Court fee as affordable as possible. we structure my fees this way because many cases don’t make it to District Court, and there’s no reason for clients to pay me for work we won’t do. we also keep my Superior Court fees low so that if you decide to appeal to Superior Court, you will not be financially burdened.
These fees do not include whatever costs you must pay to the DMV or the state as part of a conviction or in order to get your license restored.
In addition, sometimes we recommend that you hire an expert to testify on your behalf about some aspect of the case. we will explain precisely how much the expert will cost, and why you should hire him to testify. If we do hire an expert, you will be billed for his time. The decision to hire an expert is always yours.
DWI cases don’t usually require any investigative or other kind of work, so you generally don’t have to pay for those kinds of fees.
If you truly cannot afford to hire an attorney, you can request a Public Defender. Tell the judge that you wish to request a Public Defender at your first court date. The Wake County Public Defender has excellent attorneys. The only problem with the Public Defender is that those attorneys handle hundreds of cases a year.
Like other private attorneys, we handle a fraction of that, and devote a lot more time to each case.
Since the preparation of your case makes all the difference in the world, you should consider hiring a private attorney if possible.
We offer payment plans. We can bill your credit card on a schedule. Since the case will take months to resolve, you have time to pay me my fee over those months.
We would say that it is unwise to try to handle a DWI case on your own. A DWI is a serious criminal charge, resulting in serious consequences not only to your finances, but also, in certain cases, to your employment options.
Handling the case properly may lessen or even eliminate the bad effects of a DWI charge.
Again, if you truly can’t afford an attorney, ask the court to appoint a Public Defender or Court-Appointed lawyer.
By all means, look around. In fact, we will recommend other excellent attorneys if you decide not to hire us. But we would advise against a $500 or $1,000 attorney to handle a charge like a DWI. Some attorneys make their money from volume. And with volume can come a lack of attention – sometimes – to each individual case.
We try cases. We try District Court cases. We try jury cases. This takes time and preparation, but it may produce better results for you. You should consider hiring an attorney who is going to fully explore your case and, if you wish, take your case to trial where you may be able to win a “not guilty” result.
If you want to talk to me about the specifics of your case, feel free to contact me at (919) 352-9411 weekdays, evenings, or weekends. We answer the phone, so you will talk directly with me, Damon Chetson, or my assistant about the case. If you reach my assistant, she will set up a consultation with me on the case. If you reach me, We will answer those questions we can answer. Sometimes we’ll need more information, including information you don’t have about the police report or the blood test and so forth. So sometimes we will need to do further research before providing you with an answer.
But we will be as upfront as we can. If you’d like to sit down for a meeting, we’d be happy to schedule a time for you to either come to my office, or for us to visit you at your home. We are flexible, and work evenings and weekends if necessary.
If we do meet and you do decide to hire me, We will ask you to sign a “Letter of Engagement” which describes the legal services we provide, and the fees we will charge. Unfortunately, we are unable to do things on your case without some sort of commitment from you to hire us.
In addition, we will discuss a payment arrangement. Ideally you will be able to pay at least part of the fee at our first meeting, but we are flexible and willing to accommodate a variety of payment arrangements.
We accept cash, checks, credit cards, payments by third parties (such as parents, friends, or loved ones who want to help you out), and electronic payments such as PayPal.
In general, we expect payment before your case is finally concluded, but because a DWI case usually takes between 6 to 9 months, sometimes longer, there’s time to work out a schedule that will not be too much of a burden on you.
Feel free to call us (919) 352-9411 weekdays, evenings, or weekends.