Handicapped Passengers and DWIs

I’ve written elsewhere about changes to North Carolina’s DWI laws which increase punishments, create a new sentencing category called Aggravated Level 1 (or A1, for short), and impose additional fines and restrictions on alcohol consumption as well as changes to pre-trial release conditions in certain DWI cases.

One additional change can affect those charged with a DWI while having a passenger who has a physical or mental handicap. Previously, North Carolina’s DWI laws defined having a minor in the car under the age of 16 as a “grossly aggravating factor.” In that case, where there were no other grossly aggravating factors, the driver, if convicted of a DWI, would be sentenced as a Level 2, with no less than 7 days in jail, and up to a year in jail.

The law increases the age from 16 to 18, so that drivers with passengers who are under 18 are subject to enhanced punishments. In addition, the law mandates that the Judge “must” impose a punishment of at least a Level 1 (at least 30 days, and up to two years in prison) in this circumstance.

In addition, the new law expands category of passengers who are specially protected to include:

  1. a person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years

  2. a person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle was in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

So, for instance, if you’re a driver who has consumed alcohol and who has a passenger who is either an elderly person or a person with a physical handicap, you may be subject to Level 1 punishments under the DWI statute.

Among other groups, the new law will directly affect:

  • Parents with teenagers in the car
  • Teenagers with other teenagers in the car
  • Family members giving other family members who may have disabilities a ride
  • Drivers giving adult siblings, adult children, or elderly people rides provided those passengers have a mental or physical infirmity that falls within the statutory language.

Level 1 requires at least a 30 day term of incarceration, with the possibility of up to two years. In addition, it results in a possibility of up to a 4 year suspension of a license by DMV, although a person may qualify for early reinstatement or limited driving privileges following a DMV hearing after two years.

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.