Laura’s Law: NC DWI Punishments Increased

In what is certainly the most important change to North Carolina’s DWI laws, Governor Perdue signed Laura’s Law (House Bill 49) into law in late June.

The law increases punishments for repeat DWI offenders. Here’s the actual text of the bill.

NC DWI law currently defines certain “grossly aggravating factors,” “aggravating factors,” and “mitigating factors.”

“Mitigating factors” are like gold stars – they improve a defendant’s position in sentencing. “Aggravating factors” will hurt the defendant’s position in sentencing. Both of these kind of factors are left unchanged by Laura’s Law.

What the law does is to focus on people who have multiple “grossly aggravating factors”.

Under the previous law, if someone had two or more grossly aggravating factors, they would be sentenced under a Level One punishment, which would mean at least 30 days and up to 2 years in prison (although, with automatic sentencing reductions, only approximately 1 year would be served), fines of up to $4,000, revocation of the license with no limited driving privilege permitted, and other penalties.

In other words, if the person was shown to have committed a DWI with two grossly aggravating factors, or four grossly aggravating factors, the punishment was still a Level One (although of course a judge could impose a harsher sentence within the Level One range established by the North Carolina General Assembly).

However, under the new North Carolina DWI Law, the legislature has established a new level – Aggravated Level One – which must by imposed if the person has three or more grossly aggravating factors in his case.

Aggravated Level One punishment includes: 1) imprisonment of between 12 months in prison and 36 months in prison (although the prison term is shortened by four months by statute with a post-supervision/parole component, 2) the active sentence can be suspended, but the person must serve at least 120 days (or 4 months) in custody, 3) up to $10,000 in fines, 4) if the person is placed on probation, the judge must impose a condition that the person not consume alcohol for at least 120 days up to the length of probation (which must be verified by a continuous alcohol monitoring device.)

The bottom line is that someone convicted of an Aggravated Level One DWI shall spend at least 120 days in jail, plus other very stiff fines and penalties. The legislature has also barred judges from waiving certain costs, which will have the effect of making a DWI conviction more costly, especially for someone convicted of a Level 2, 1 or Aggravated Level One.

Finally, the legislature has imposed a new $100 fee for everyone who is convicted of a DWI in North Carolina after December 1, 2011.

For people currently facing DWIs, this law does not change the way they can be punished. This act only applies to offenses committed after December 1, 2011.

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.