As predicted, North Carolina’s new DWI statute – passed last year and in effect as of December 1, 2011 and affecting all DWIs committed on or after that date – is having a significant impact on people charged with Raleigh DWI offenses.
The most significant effects have occurred in cases involving young people who have never previously been convicted of DWIs, much less any crime, before. That’s because two changes to the law impose harsh penalties.
Under the old law, a person could be found guilty of a Level 2 DWI if the person was convicted of a DWI while having a person under the age of 16 in the vehicle. The law was intended to address parents or adults who had children in the car while driving while impaired.
The new law raises the age to 18 and at the same time increases the penalty by imposing a Level 1 judgment upon a person convicted of having a DWI while a person under the age of 18 was in the vehicle.
This two-part change in the law, probably also intended to address negligent parents driving in cars with children, now also affects teenager who may be driving a car after drinking, and have friends in the car who are under 18.
Consider a 16 year old, newly licensed, and young and… stupid – out at a party with friends who, license in hand, decides to foolishly drive his friends home.
If caught and convicted, that 16 year old is inviting at least 30 days in jail – and up to 2 years! – if any of the people in the car are also under the age of 18. So a 16 year old driver with a 17 year-old passenger can be put away in jail for 30 days if convicted of the underlying DWI.
In addition, that 16 year old is also going to be convicted of Driving After Consuming under the age of 21, a class 2 misdemeanor.
These penalties, which were likely intended for parents and adults, are going to be applied in increasing frequency to teenagers.
While no one wants drunks on the streets, the harshness of the current law will now affect young people who did not reflect on their actions and are not aware of the law.