Change to NC DWI Law: Having a Child in the Car

I’ve written elsewhere about Laura’s Law, which increases punishments or costs for all DWIs, and particularly is aimed a repeat DWI offenders.

Up to $10,000 in fines, not to mention 120 days in jail in the harshest category.

A lesser known change is the change to North Carolina’s rule that someone charged with a DWI will be punished more harshly for having a child in the car.

The old law provided that someone convicted of a DWI who had in the car a child under the age of 16 would be, if no other factors were involved, punished as a Level 2.

The new law makes two changes. First, the age of the child has been raised to 18 years. So punishment will be enhanced for anyone who is convicted of a DWI with a child under the age of 18 in the car. In addition, the change expands the definition of “under 18” to include people who may be biologically 18 or older, but may have the mental ability of a minor.

Second, the law requires the judge to impose a Level 1 (the second harshest sentencing level, meaning up to two years in prison) for someone convicted of this kind of DWI.

I can imagine two categories of DWI offenders will be affected.

First, parents, charged with a DWI, with teenage kids in the car, can be potentially convicted of a Level 1 DWI. Dad, driving home from a Fourth of July family party with his teenage son, may be convicted of a Level 1 DWI if he’s had too much to drink.

Second, teenagers with friends in the car can be potentially convicted of a Level 1 DWI. So, if you’re young, and out at a party, and have had too much to drink, and a friend of yours, who is under 18, is in your car as you drive home from the party, you may be committing a Level 1 DWI.

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.