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A driving while impaired offense is one of the most common criminal charges in Raleigh. Each year, thousands of people are charged with drunk driving in Wake County, the result of tougher enforcement today than ever before. Increased federal funding, improvements in detection, and a political climate in which voters and interests groups have targeted DWIs have made driving even after a single glass of beer a risky proposition.
The answer is, as with anything in the criminal justice system, it depends. Certainly, you should try to find an experienced and aggressive defense lawyer who will fight the case. (Not all criminal defense lawyers are the same.)
The reason is that a DWI conviction will, at a minimum, result in an automatic suspension of your license, a requirement that you complete community service, an increase in your insurance rates by as much as 400 percent, probation, and drug or alcohol classes. And that’s for a relatively mild DWI.
DWIs that involve accidents, minor passengers, or very bad driving can trigger jail time. Repeat DWIs, especially if the previous DWI conviction is within seven years of the offense date for the new DWI invoke mandatory jail time that can only be avoided through special in-patient treatment programs.
A DWI may also impact a person’s ability to keep his or her job.
First, a winnable DWI case begins with the facts of the date in question. If you cooperated with police, answered lots of questions, performed field sobriety tests, behaved erratically, were emotional, or had an accident in which you admitted to driving, you’ve got a tough case to win.
That’s because throughout the process the police are trained to take notes about smells, actions, behavior, body movements, and performance on what are called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests to help them prove later in court that you were impaired.
If you’re reading this article before ever having been charged with a DWI, my advice is not to drink and drive. Beyond that, generally you should not answer questions, and you should do so in a respectful way.
If you are reading this article after having been charged, then the best thing you can do is write down everything that happened that night in a narrative, or fill out a questionnaire that your lawyer might give you.
You should also have a frank discussion with your lawyer. The lawyer’s clear understanding of your case will help him prepare for your defense.
Hopefully, at every point in the process you requested a witness or an attorney. For instance, when you were asked whether you wanted to answer questions after having been Mirandized, hopefully you declined to answer or requested a lawyer be present. In addition, when the chemical analyst was in the process of waiting for the Intox EC/IR II machine to set up for your breathalyzer test, hopefully you also asked at that point for a witness for the test.
These are important rights that you need to exercise.
At your first hearing, you will be apprised if your right to an attorney, and will be asked to fill out a Waiver of Counsel if you have decided to hire your own lawyer. (If you cannot afford a lawyer, you will be asked to fill out an affidavit of indigency and the court will determine whether you qualify for a court appointed lawyer.)
If you’re represented by a lawyer, and it is a poor decision not to have some sort of lawyer representing you, your lawyer will collect the discovery from the police officer, and interview the police officer about what happened. If there’s video, your lawyer can either request it or subpoena it from the officer. In District Court, you have no statutory right to discovery, but you do have a right to exculpatory material (material that tends to prove your innocence, or tends to mitigate the seriousness of your actions).
Your case is likely to take at least several months. If you want a trial in the matter, you can anticipate your DWI case to last at least six months and possibly take more than a year.
At some point, if your case involves multiple officers, outside witnesses who are civilians, or a blood draw or other special circumstances, it may be sent to courtroom 403, a special DWI courtroom where scheduling is left to one of two assistant district attorneys who coordinate with your lawyer.
The advantage of this courtroom is that it generally reduces the number of times you must come to court. The disadvantage of this courtroom is that, to the extent you can win a case because a witness does not show up, this courtroom reduces that possibility by scheduling your hearing or trial for a date when everyone has specially been requested to come to court.
If you win your DWI – either because it is dismissed by an ADA who can’t bring evidence to court to prove the case, or because your lawyer successfully argued a motion or the trial before a judge or jury – you are entitled to an immediate expungement provided you have not previously used an expungement in North Carolina.
If you lose your DWI and are convicted, either by plea or by trial, you are not entitled to an expungement for at least 15 years from the end date of the punishment phase. So, for instance, if you are placed on one year probation, you will effectively need to wait 16 years from the conviction date in order to apply for an expungement. Those expungements may be granted if a judge is satisfied that you have a good character, and that other conditions apply, including the fact that the DWI can be the only conviction you ever had (except for minor traffic offenses).
DWI convictions are not expungeable before the 15 year mark in any circumstance other than a pardon.
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NO PRESSURE. SPEAK TO AN ATTORNEY. NO HIDDEN FEES.