A Modest Proposal to Reform NC DWI Laws

I’ve written elsewhere about how NC DWI laws affect various groups – prosecutors, judges, the court system, and defendants. The result is a highly inefficient system.

Note: I am not proposing that North Carolina go easy on DWIs. A DWI in North Carolina involves harsh punishments, even for first time offenders. One year license suspension. 400 percent increase in insurance rates. Life-long criminal conviction. Community Service, at a minimum. Fines of between $400 and $700. License and DMV fees.

If the General Assembly wants to keep that as a minimum punishment, then that’s their decision. I personally think it’s over-punitive for first-time DWIs. But that’s my personal view, and not what I’m advocating in this post.

What I’m calling for is a plea option.

A plea option would be an option that a defendant could take early in the case that would be less punitive than what he would get should he lose at trial. In other words, there needs to be either some cost of going to trial, or some benefit from not going to trial. However you look at it – depending on your perspective – the defendant must be given some consideration for not exercising his right to a jury trial.

In my personal view, this plea option would be to a continued judgment for 5 years that would involve substantial fines/costs (however it needs to be phrased to be consistent with a continued judgment), 24 hours of community service, a substance abuse assessment and treatment, a suspension of a license for 90 days with a limited driving privilege.

If the person had no new criminal offenses within 5 years, the PJC would be permanently entered. If the person had a new criminal offense within 5 years, a conviction would be entered. If the person had a new DWI within 5 years, the pre-existing DWI would be entered, and the person would be eligible for Aggravated Level One, Level 1, or Level 2 punishment.

You could even name this lesser punishment something different, so that defendants who took this plea could say to employers, I was never convicted of a DWI, I was convicted of a lesser crime. This would be a consideration to the defendant would encourage the taking of pleas.

The punishment would still be tough, but not so tough as to make going to trial a viable option for every single DWI defendant.

In addition, the Interlock would be subject to pleas, with the prosecutor allowing the defendant to escape the interlock if they pled to the crime. The interlock system is junk anyway, with plenty of false positives, and unnecessary costs associated with a monopoly provider that is only used in North Carolina.

Note, again, I’m not encouraging people to take pleas. Many DWIs need to be tried, because defendants are not guilty and prosecutors and defense lawyers are not going to agree that the defendant is not guilty, except if a jury decides so. But I am saying that plea option needs to be created to stop the madness of overcrowded District Courts, and overcrowded Misdemeanor Appeals courts.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.