Common Questions and Helpful Answers About NC Criminal and DWI Charges
It is natural to have many questions and concerns when charged with a crime in North Carolina. These charges can have serious consequences and long-lasting effects on those charged with their families, so they need reliable answers quickly. Here, Todd Browning and Howard Long share their answers to many of these tough questions. Find out their thoughts on DWI, traffic charges, and many other crimes.
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If I recieved a civil revocation when charged with DWI in North Carolina, when can I drive again?
DWI Civil Revocation
When a person is charged with DWI, their North Carolina driver’s license is almost always revoked due to a DWI Civil Revocation. Your license is subject to such a revocation if:
- A law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you committed a DWI;
- You are charged with DWI;
- The law enforcement officer and/or the chemical analyst comply with the mandated procedures in requiring your submission to a breath and/or blood test; and
- You either
- Willfully refuse to submit to the breath and/or blood test;
- Had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more within a relevant time after the driving;
- Had an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more at any relevant time after the driving of a commercial motor vehicle; or
- Have any alcohol concentration at any relevant time after the driving and you are under 21 years of age.
If your license is revoked due to a DWI Civil Revocation, there are three different ways our attorneys can potentially get you driving again.
- Hearing to Contest the DWI Civil Revocation
- Pre-Trial Limited Driving Privilege
- Wait for the DWI Civil Revocation to Expire
Hearing to Contest the DWI Civil Revocation
At Browning & Long, PLLC, this is the preferred method to getting you driving again.
Oftentimes, our attorneys can schedule a hearing in front of a judge or magistrate to challenge your DWI Civil Revocation. If our attorneys are successful at this hearing, your North Carolina driving privileges are restored in full; that is, there are no further restrictions on your driver’s license and you are permitted to drive as you did before being arrested for DWI. Additionally, there are no required fees or fines to pay to the State as required with the other options discussed below.
However, in order to take advantage of this approach, by statute, our attorneys must file the appropriate paperwork to request the hearing within 10 days from the date of your revocation. Don’t delay, contact us now!
Pre-Trial Limited Driving Privilege
If you missed the 10-day window to request a hearing to contest your DWI Civil Revocation, the attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC can help you apply for a Pre-Trial Limited Driving Privilege. Once 10 days from the date of your DWI Civil Revocation have passed, a Pre-Trial Limited Driving Privilege allows you to drive throughout the remainder of your revocation - typcially to day 30 or 45 - from Monday through Friday, between the hours of 6:00 AM and 8:00 PM, for purposes such as household maintenance, employment, and education. In many cases, our attorneys can assist you in getting extended hours for certain purposes. However, unlike the hearing to contest a DWI Civil Revocation, there is a $100 filing fee, paid to the State, to secure a Pre-Trial Limited Driving Privilege.
Wait for the DWI Civil Revocation to Expire
When you receive a DWI Civil Revocation, the minimum period of revocation is either 30 or 45 days depending on when your driver’s license was surrendered. If your driver’s license is surrendered within 5 working days of the revocation, the revocation period is 30 days. If your driver’s license is not surrendered within 5 working days of the revocation, the revocation is generally 45 days.
If you were not able to take advantage of a DWI Civil Revocation Contest Hearing or a Limited Driving Privilege, your DWI Civil Revocation will expire after the 30 or 45-day revocation period mentioned above. Once expired, and only after you pay the requisite $100 DWI Civil Revocation fee, your driver’s license will be restored.
Does it matter to my attorney if I am guilty of committing the crime?
If you know that you are guilty of committing a crime, you may worry that your attorney knows that you are guilty even if he does not ask you whether you committed the crime. This may lead to concerns about how well your lawyer can represent you if he believes that you are guilty. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney knows that the focus should not be on your guilt or innocence but on the strength of the case against you.
Factual vs. Legal Guilt in Criminal Cases
It is important to keep in mind that the focus of your defense is not whether or not you committed the act but whether the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. This is the difference between factual and legal guilt. Here is how it affects criminal cases:
- Factual guilt. Factual guilt refers to what you actually did. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney will not focus on this because you can be factually guilty but not legally guilty. A good attorney will focus on your legal guilt.
- Legal guilt. Legal guilt refers to whether the prosecutor can prove that you committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether you committed the crime or not, you are not legally guilty unless the prosecutor has enough evidence to convince a judge or jury to find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So your attorney’s focus should be on this question: What can the prosecutor prove? His tactics may be to attack the strength of the evidence against you—whether or not your attorney believes that you are guilty.
Why Guilt or Innocence May Not Matter to Your Criminal Defense Attorney
An attorney has a duty to zealously represent his clients in criminal matters—regardless of the person’s guilt. Under our criminal justice system, everyone charged with a crime has a right to a vigorous defense. This is a protection all accused people have under the United States Constitution. An attorney does not have a duty to prove a client’s innocence, so it does not really matter to him whether the person is guilty. His duty is to prove the person’s defenses to show that he is not legally guilty.
Guilt is also not that important because criminal defense attorneys often feel like they never really know whether their clients are guilty or not. Even if someone confesses to his attorney, it does not mean that he really did it. He could be covering for someone else or have another reason for lying. In addition, he may not be guilty of this offense, but could have committed a less serious offense. For these and other reasons, attorneys often do not ask about guilt when talking to clients in criminal cases and instead focus their questions to clients on building a strong defense.
While your attorney has a duty to provide you with a defense if there is one to raise, this does not mean that he can lie for you. If he knows that you are guilty of the crime, he could not claim that you did not commit the crime as a defense. However, this does not preclude him from raising defenses that show the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case against you.
Let Us Help You Raise All Your Defenses to the Charges You Face
Whether you are guilty or innocent, you may have strong defenses that will show that the prosecutor cannot prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, you will need the assistance of experienced criminal defense attorneys to identify and effectively raise your defenses. It is crucial to take this aggressive approach because it can result in the charges against you being dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense with less serious penalties. To learn more about our experiences defending our clients facing many different criminal charges and how we can help you, call our office to schedule your free consultation.
What traffic violations require a mandatory court hearing?
North Carolina has some of the strictest traffic offense laws in the country. Unlike many other states, a person who receives a traffic ticket will often be required to attend a mandatory court hearing. This means that even if you want to plead guilty and pay the ticket, you will most likely have to attend a court hearing to do so. However, an experienced traffic law attorney may be able to attend this hearing for you and obtain a better outcome with less harsh penalties than if you go to the hearing on your own.
What Are Waivable Offenses That Do Not Require a Mandatory Court Hearing?
There are a few “waivable” offenses where you can handle the ticket without going to court by paying the fines and costs prior to the court date. By doing so, you are waiving your right to appear at a court hearing. Waivable offenses are very minor ones, such as having a broken headlight. The police officer who issues the ticket should indicate on the back of the ticket whether the offense is one that can be waived. If it is, the costs and fines that you must pay should also be listed.
By paying the ticket, you are also pleading guilty to the offense. This can affect your driver’s license and automobile insurance costs. It is always best to consult with an experienced attorney before deciding to just pay the ticket to be certain that you do not have better options—which is often the case.
Traffic Offenses Which Require a Mandatory Court Hearing
The majority of traffic offenses require attendance at a court hearing in North Carolina. In addition, if you intend to plead not guilty to the traffic offense, you must attend the court hearing to enter your plea. Tickets that require a mandatory court hearing include:
- Tampering with an ignition interlock device
- Driving while a driver’s license is suspended, revoked, disqualified, or revoked for an impaired driver’s license revocation
- Driving a commercial vehicle without a valid commercial driver’s license or when the license has been suspended, revoked, or disqualified
- Failing to obey the instructions of a traffic officer or a fireman at the scene of a fire
- Driving while intoxicated
- Driving with an open container after drinking
- Reckless driving
- Driving over 80 mph, including in a work zone
- Speeding 15 miles or more over the speed limit while driving over 55 mph, including in a work zone
- Aggressive driving
- Failing to give right of way to the right when being passed if this results in a crash that causes bodily harm or property damage
- Making unsafe movements that cause an accident that results in serious bodily injury or property damage more than $5,000
- Failing to yield involving serious bodily injury
- Failing to stop at the scene of an accident or to report it
- Passing a stopped school bus
- Violating the financial responsibility laws
What Happens If You Miss Your Mandatory Court Hearing?
If you fail to attend your mandatory court hearing, you could face more serious consequences. You may be assessed additional court costs, a warrant could be issued for your arrest, and your driver’s license could be revoked. Depending on the traffic offense, you may be facing additional criminal charges. You should contact an attorney immediately for assistance in getting your hearing rescheduled so that you do not face these consequences.
We Are Here to Help With Your Traffic Offense
Did you receive a traffic ticket? An experienced traffic ticket lawyer may be able to attend your mandatory court hearing for you and will fight hard to get the ticket dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. This can help you avoid some of the harsh long-term consequences, such as a permanent criminal record, points on your driving record, and increased insurance costs. Call our office today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.
What can happen if I get caught driving on a suspended license?
Because most people rely on driving a vehicle to get to work and take care of family and personal affairs, it can be devastating to have a suspended driver’s license. Public transportation may be readily accessible in some cities in North Carolina, but it may be unavailable, time-consuming, and expensive where you live. As a result, you may find it almost impossible not to drive—even if you have a suspended license. However, if you are caught, you could face even more serious penalties.
Why Are Driver’s Licenses Revoked in North Carolina?
Your North Carolina driver’s license can be suspended for many reasons. Some of the reasons are for fairly minor offenses while others are for committing serious offenses or unsafe driving practices. Here are some of the reasons that your driver’s license could be suspended:
- Failing to pay court costs and fees
- Failing to attend a required court hearing
- Failing to pay child support
- Failing to complete required community service
- Accumulating 12 Department of Motor Vehicle points on your driver’s license in a three-year period or accumulating three points in a three year period when you have a driver’s license suspension on your record
- Speeding over a certain speed or receiving a certain number of speeding tickets
- Refusing to submit to a chemical test to determine if you are intoxicated
- Being convicted of impaired driving
- Failing to stop after an accident
What Are the Penalties for Driving While Your Driver’s License Is Suspended?
Driving While License Revoked (DWLR) is a serious misdemeanor offense in North Carolina—even if your original suspension is for failing to pay fines or another more minor cause. However, the law was changed on December 1, 2015, to reduce the harsh consequences for some offenses. There are now four offenses:
- DWLR. You could be convicted of this offense if you drive a motor vehicle on a highway—which is broadly defined to include most roads—while knowing that your driver’s license has been revoked. This is a Class 3 misdemeanor, but under the new law, a violation may not result in an additional driver’s license suspension.
- Impaired driving suspension. It is a violation of the law to drive when your license has been suspended for impaired driving, and you have received a required notice under North Carolina law of the suspension. This is also a Class 1 Misdemeanor, and a violation could result in an additional driver’s license suspension.
- Driving without reclaiming license. If you are charged with DWI, your driver’s license will be immediately revoked. If the time period for the revocation has expired and you have not reclaimed your license, but are caught driving, this is a Class 3 misdemeanor. Under the new law, this violation may not result in an additional revocation of your license.
- Driving after notification. If you drive after failing to appear for a DWI (Driving While Impaired) court date or after receiving a notice from the DMV that your license has been suspended, this remains a Class 1 misdemeanor. You may face an additional driver’s license suspension.
The consequences of driving when your drivers’ license is suspended are serious and include a permanent criminal record if you are convicted of a misdemeanor offense. You could face these punishments:
- Up to 120 days in jail
- Fines to be set by the judge
- Driver’s license suspension of an additional one year for the first offense, two years for a second offense, and lifetime revocation for a third offense
- Eight points on your vehicle insurance policy, which can result in your premiums increasing up to 220 percent for the next three years under North Carolina’s Safe Driver Incentive Plan
Let Us Help If Your Driver’s License Has Been Suspended
Rather than try to handle your case on your own, we recommend speaking with a traffic ticket lawyer to understand how the legal process works. If you have been charged with driving while your driver’s license was suspended, our experienced traffic law attorneys are here to help you fight the charges you face. Depending on your situation, we may be able to help you get your driving privileges restored. Call our office today to schedule your free case evaluation to learn more about your legal options.
What happens if I miss my court date for a criminal offense?
When you are charged with committing a crime, you may be released after paying bail while your case is pending. As a condition of your release, you agree to attend all required court hearings in your criminal case. This is something that you are already legally required to do. If you break this promise and fail to attend a court hearing, the consequences can be harsh. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you to reduce the penalties that you could face.
What Could Happen to You If You Miss a Court Hearing?
If you fail to appear at your court hearing, this is taken seriously in North Carolina no matter the seriousness of the crime that you are being charged with committing. The judge will mark your case with a failure to appear (FTA). He could also order the following:
- Bench warrant. The judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. This is more likely for a misdemeanor or felony offense, but is also possible if you are required to go to court for a traffic violation. If the charges are serious, the police may actively look for you to arrest you, including going to your home or job. If you are charged with a less serious offense, you may not be arrested unless you are stopped for a traffic violation and the police check the computer records and see that a bench warrant was issued.
- Bail bond. You could have your bail revoked and be required to remain in jail until your case goes to trial. In addition, you could forfeit the original bond that you paid to be released when you were arrested initially.
- Separate criminal charge. You could be charged with contempt of court or another separate crime for missing your court hearing and face an additional punishment if convicted.
- Harsher sentence. If you are convicted of a crime or enter into a plea agreement, the judge will decide your sentence and can consider your remorse, or lack of it, in making his decision. Many judges consider failing to appear at a court hearing as a sign of lack of remorse or of disrespect for the court. This could result in the judge imposing a harsher sentence.
- Driver’s license suspension. Another consequence of failing to appear in court is that your driver’s license could be suspended. If you miss a hearing in traffic court, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest and notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) of the warrant. The DMV could send you a letter giving you two months to resolve your ticket before your driver’s license is suspended. If you wait too long after that to resolve your ticket, you could find your options for doing so with the prosecuting attorney are limited.
What Can You Do If You Miss a Court Hearing?
You may not have wanted to miss your court hearing, but did due to an accident, a medical emergency, or another legitimate reason. Even if you do not have a good excuse, you can take proactive measures if you miss your court hearing to reduce the negative consequences. Here are actions that you can take:
- Go to the Clerk’s office immediately to explain why you missed your court hearing.
- Ask that the court hearing be rescheduled. This request may—or may not—be granted.
- Obtain documentation of the reason for missing court when possible. For example, get a letter from your treating physician if a medical emergency caused you to miss a court hearing.
- Contact your criminal defense attorney who may be able to get the arrest warrant dismissed and your court hearing date rescheduled.
Have you missed a court date? We urge you to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you minimize the potential consequences that you face. To discuss your situation, call our office or fill out our online form to schedule your free consultation today.
What is a no contest (“nolo contendere”) plea and how does it differ from other pleas in criminal cases in North Carolina?
If you are charged with a crime in North Carolina, you will have to decide what plea to enter to the charges. How you plead can have important consequences both in your criminal case and life in general because a conviction will result in you having a permanent criminal record. One option that some people choose when entering into a plea agreement or entering a plea other than a plea of not guilty is to plead no contest—also referred to as nolo contendere—instead of guilty. Here, we explain what a no contest plea is and the benefits of entering this plea.
What Is a No-Contest Plea?
You have several choices of pleas that you can enter in your criminal case. These include the following:
- Not guilty
- No contest
- Alford plea
In many criminal cases, a person will start out by pleading not guilty and then change his plea to guilty later if he enters into a plea agreement.
Depending on your situation, it could be in your best interest to not plead guilty and instead enter a no contest plea or an Alford plea when resolving your case. A no-contest plea in North Carolina is a plea where a person does not admit or dispute the charges against him and has the same effect as a guilty plea in terms of sentencing. However, a person is not admitting legal responsibility for the incident.
What would be the benefit of pleading no contest instead of guilty? Important advantages to this plea include:
- If you plead no contest, your plea cannot be used against you in a civil action filed by any victim who suffered injuries due to your actions. This is the biggest advantage of this plea and can be important if you caused a car accident resulting in a person’s injury or death, injured someone in an assault, or shot someone. In contrast, if you pled guilty, your plea could be used against you as an admission of fault in a civil case and increase the likelihood that you will owe compensation to the victim.
- You avoid the attorney fees associated with taking your criminal case to trial.
- If you are entering this plea as part of a plea agreement, the charges against you and the sentence you face may be reduced.
Another Option: An Alford Plea
While not all states allow people to enter an Alford plea, you are permitted to do so in North Carolina. If you enter this plea, you are maintaining your innocence but are admitting that the state has sufficient evidence to convict you and agree to accept the punishment. Unlike a no contest plea, you are essentially pleading guilty while still maintaining your innocence. This plea may seem contradictory, but it was ruled permissible by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1970 in a criminal case in our state, North Carolina vs. Alford.
Like a plea of no contest, an Alford plea may be beneficial if you believe that you face civil liability as well as criminal charges, as your plea may not be allowed to be used against you in the civil case. You must obtain the approval of the prosecutor and judge to enter into a no contest or Alford plea.
How Should You Decide Which Plea Is Right for You?
You should never decide on entering a plea without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise you on what the best option is. This is especially true when you are considering a no contest or Alford plea to avoid civil liability. In addition, your attorney may be able to raise defenses to the charges—even if you know that you are guilty—that could result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense.
If you are a suspect or have been charged with a crime, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC are here to help you build a strong defense to the charges you face. Call our office today to schedule a free consultation to learn how our experiences as former prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys can be beneficial to you.
How can I help my attorney in my criminal case?
When you are facing any criminal charges—even traffic or misdemeanor offenses—you are facing serious consequences that could affect your life down the road. You could have a permanent criminal record that will impact the ability to obtain a job, a professional license, and a loan. If you face felony charges, the penalties are much more severe. So you want to do everything in your case to help reduce the negative consequences.
Ways You Can Assist Your Attorney With Your Criminal Defense
You and your attorney are a team. There are many ways that you can take a little control of what can feel like an uncontrollable situation and help your attorney with your defense. This is a way to positively influence what happens in your case. Ways that you can assist your attorney in defending you include:
- Be honest. Your attorney can only help you if you are honest with him. When he asks you a question, be honest in your answer. Your discussions with him are protected by the attorney-client privilege. Your answers could lead him to possible defenses—even if you are guilty. However, do not freely provide him with information that he does not ask for or confess your guilt. If you retain an experienced criminal defense attorney, he will know what he needs to know and does not want to discuss to best defend you.
- Discuss your goals. Once your lawyer has investigated your case, he will be able to tell you the strengths and weaknesses of your case and the possible outcomes. You should inform your attorney about your willingness to accept a plea agreement. Similarly, he needs to know if you want to fight your case and take it to trial if necessary.
- Discuss how much you can pay. You will need to discuss how much the attorney will charge for your defense and what you can afford to pay for expert witnesses, depositions, and private investigators in addition to his fees. This will help your attorney in developing your defense.
- Provide documents and information promptly. Provide your attorney with any documents, witness’ contact information, and any other information that will help in your defense as soon as possible. If you delay in sharing this information, you make it harder to build a strong defense.
- Communicate with your attorney. While you should not contact your attorney daily, you want to set a schedule for communicating with your attorney about your case and be in contact with him on those dates. Be certain that your lawyer always has your correct cell phone number, address, and email address so that he can contact you when necessary.
- Always be on time. You need to be on time for all court hearings and appointments with your attorney. You want to be early for your court hearings to avoid the risk of being late and making a bad impression with the prosecutor and judge, as well as inconveniencing your attorney. You should also dress appropriately for your court hearings.
- Don’t talk to the police. You should never talk to the police unless you have first discussed this with your attorney and he agrees and is present. Even if the police try to convince you that it is in your best interest to cooperate, it is not—unless it is done on the advice of your attorney.
- Stay off social media. You can help your attorney—and not hurt your criminal case—by staying off social media while your case is pending. If you must be on social media, do not discuss anything about your criminal case and be extremely careful in what you post. The prosecutor could search your social media postings.
- Follow your attorney’s advice. You hired your attorney because you thought that he could help you achieve the best possible outcome for your situation. You can help him achieve this goal for you by following his advice. When you do not follow his recommendations, you can weaken your defense and hamper his abilities to defend you.
- Pay your bills on time. You need to honor your agreement with your attorney and pay your bills on time. Your attorney is providing you with a valuable service. When you pay him late, he may not be able to hire the expert witnesses and private investigators he needs to mount an effective defense.
Once you retain an experienced criminal defense attorney, he can advise you on the best ways that you can help him.
Start Buildng Your Defense Team
The criminal defense attorneys at Browning & Long have helped hundreds of individuals mitigate the outcomes of their charges. To learn how our legal team can help you to fight the criminal charges you face, call our office or fill out our convenient online form to schedule a free consultation.
What are common grounds to suppress evidence and how could that help my criminal case?
If you are charged with committing a crime, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charges. An attorney should have strategies based on experience handling similar criminal cases—which may help in getting your charges dismissed or reduced to a crime with a less severe punishment. One important way that an attorney may be able to weaken or destroy the prosecution’s case against you is to file a motion to suppress evidence against you.
How Can a Motion to Suppress Evidence Help in Your Criminal Case?
It is critical to keep in mind that you are innocent until proven guilty in a criminal case—even if you know that you are guilty of committing the crime. The prosecution has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high standard that the prosecutor cannot always meet, including cases where the accused is obviously guilty.
A motion to suppress evidence is filed to prevent certain pieces of evidence from being used against you in your criminal case. It can help your case in the following ways:
- If the suppressed evidence is essential to prove the criminal charges against you, its suppression could result in the criminal charges being dismissed.
- If the prosecutor has other sufficient evidence against you, the charges against you will not be dismissed. However, the suppressed evidence can severely weaken the prosecutor’s case against you and create reasonable doubt—sufficient for you being found not guilty. It could also result in the prosecutor offering you a more favorable plea agreement due to the lack of evidence against you.
Common Grounds to File a Motion to Suppress Evidence
In order to successfully file a motion to suppress evidence, you need to have legal grounds to argue that the evidence should be suppressed. These grounds are generally based on police misconduct and violation of your constitutional rights. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to identify grounds to file a motion to suppress evidence in your case. Common reasons to file this motion include:
- Unlawful searches and seizures. Under the Fourth Amendment, you are protected against illegal searches of your home, your property, and yourself. In general, police must have a valid search or arrest warrant or probable cause to believe that a crime was committed to stop, search, or arrest you. If the police did not have a proper warrant or probable cause, the evidence collected that supports the charges against you could be thrown out of court.
- Failure to give Miranda warnings. Once the police take you into custody, they must inform you of your Miranda rights under the constitution before questioning you further. This includes being advised of the right to remain silent, that any statements can be used against you, and your right to an attorney. If they fail to give you these warnings and you make an incriminating statement or confess to the crime, these statements can be suppressed. In addition, the police could violate your rights by trying to continue to question you after you invoke your Miranda rights.
- Coerced statements. If the police coerce you into confessing or making a statement, this may be grounds for suppression of your statement.
- Chain of custody errors. The police are required to follow strict procedures for the handling of and storage of evidence against you. This is to ensure that it is not tampered with or mixed up with evidence in another criminal case. When the police mishandle the evidence or otherwise violate the rules, the evidence can be suppressed.
- Witness identification. If you were identified in a police lineup, the police may have violated your rights by improperly suggesting that the witness identify you, failing to allow your attorney to attend the lineup, or failing to include other potential suspects in the lineup with a similar appearance. This can be grounds to suppress the witness’ identification—which could be crucial to proving you committed the crime.
- DUI testing results. There can be many challenges to the tests performed by the police as part of a DUI arrest. This can include violation of the many rules regarding field sobriety tests, improper administration of breathalyzer tests, or calibration problems with testing machines. In addition, many successful challenges to evidence are based on the lack of probable cause to stop the accused in the first place.
If you are facing criminal charges, our experienced criminal defense attorneys are here to guide you through the criminal process. To learn more about how we can assist you, call our office today to schedule your free consultation.
What steps should I take if I am stopped for driving while intoxicated?
If you are stopped for driving while intoxicated (DWI), you cannot change the fact that the police are pulling you over or that you may have been drinking before driving. However, there are things that you can do that will protect your rights and make the situation better. There are also actions that you can take that will make what happens next worse. Here, we discuss the best way to handle a police stop when the officer suspects that you have been drinking and driving.
What Should You Do If the Police Pull You Over for a DWI?
When you see a police officer’s flashing red lights behind you, you need to find a place to pull over safely. You will want to turn on your turn signal to let the officer know that you are complying and, if possible, pull over on the right side of the road. Here are tips on how to handle the stop in a way that keeps you safe and does not hurt your potential criminal case:
- Stay in your car. You should stay in your vehicle and turn the engine off. If it is dark outside, turn on your car’s interior light so the officer can see you. Keep your hands on your steering wheel where he can see them.
- Have your documents available. You want to have your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance readily available to hand to the officer when he requests them. You do not want to be reaching into your glove compartment when he is approaching your car because he will not know whether you are reaching for documents or a weapon.
- Avoid sudden and suspicious movements. You want to avoid any sudden or suspicious movements that would make the officer feel the situation is dangerous. This is especially important now with all the news stories about police stops where people have been killed or officers randomly attacked. Even an innocent movement, such as leaning forward, could be interpreted as an attempt to hide something under your car seat or to reach for a gun.
- Be polite and follow instructions. If you are polite and follow the officer’s instructions, your stop will go more smoothly. You are much more likely to be arrested if you are rude or argumentative.
- Watch what you say. You need to be careful not to make incriminating statements or volunteer information. You should never lie as this can hurt you in court. However, you can be silent except to answer questions regarding your name and address. Politely refuse to answer questions about how much you have been drinking.
- Do not agree to take a field sobriety test. You have the right to politely refuse to take a field sobriety test. Even if you have had nothing to drink, it is very likely that you will fail these tests. Taking these tests gives the police officer more ammunition against you to claim that you were intoxicated when driving.
- Decline to perform a portable breath test. You are also not required to take a portable breath test, also referred to as a PBT. These tests are often unreliable, and it is a good strategy to refuse to take one. The police will most likely arrest you, but they will have less incriminating evidence against you.
- Take the test at the police station. Once you are placed under arrest the police officer will take you to the police station and ask you to submit to a breath test. If you are taken to the hospital, the police officer will ask that you allow your blood to be drawn. These tests will provide your alocol concentration and will be used against you in court. You can refuse these tests, however, if you do, in most cases the police officer will get a search warrant and then compel you to provide a sample. Additionally, if you refuse, your driver's license will be suspended for a year. Accordinly, we recommend that you provide a sample, however, if your only concern is not getting convicted, then you should refuse.
- Contact an experienced attorney. As soon as possible after your arrest, you want to retain an experienced DWI defense attorney. He can explain the criminal process to you, build your defense to the charges you face, and fight to get the charges dismissed or reduced so that you face the least possible sentence.
What Happens If You Did Not Follow All of These Guidelines?
Most people do not contact an attorney until after they are arrested and may not know how to handle a DWI stop properly. If this is true for you and you did not follow all these steps, this does not mean that you do not have defenses to the DWI charges you face. An experienced criminal defense attorney will have dealt with situations like yours in the past and will know how to minimize the effects of any mistakes you may have made.
Can I be charged with DWI as a felony in North Carolina?
In general, driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges are classified as misdemeanors in North Carolina. However, you should not treat a misdemeanor DWI charge lightly. A DWI misdemeanor conviction can come with heavy penalties, such as a jail sentence, large fines, community service, and suspension of your driver’s license. You would also have a criminal record for the rest of your life that could impact on your ability to find a job, obtain a loan, and more, so the long-term consequences of a DWI should not be overlooked.
In addition, DWI misdemeanor convictions could lead to charges of felony DWI or other DWI-related felony charges in certain situations. These are very serious charges, and a conviction can result in even stiffer penalties—including a mandatory prison sentence. If you are charged with any DWI—misdemeanor or felony—you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to guide you through the process and help build your defense. Even if you believe that you are guilty, there could be many defenses in your case that could result in a dismissal of the charges or a reduction to a less serious offense.
Habitual DWI Felony Charges
DWI can be a felony in North Carolina, and the offense is habitual DWI. You can be charged with this crime if you were driving while impaired and were convicted of three or more other offenses involving DWI within 10 years of the date of this offense. These offenses include:
- Impaired driving
- Habitual impaired driving
- Impaired driving in a commercial vehicle
- Death or serious injury by a vehicle that is based on impaired driving
- Murder based on impaired driving
- Involuntary manslaughter that involves impaired driving
- Substantially similar offenses that are committed in other states or possibly another country
If convicted of this crime, you face a mandatory prison sentence of 12 to 59 months, possible permanent suspension of your driver’s license, and seizure of the vehicle that you were driving when you were arrested if certain requirements are met. You may also be required to go through an alcohol treatment program while in jail in order to be paroled.
What Other Felony DWI Charges Could You Face?
Unfortunately, you could be charged with an even more serious felony DWI or a misdemeanor offense if you injured or killed someone when driving while impaired. Some of the charges you could face include:
- Felony death by vehicle. If you unintentionally killed another person while driving when impaired and the impairment was the proximate cause of the death, you could be charged with felony death by vehicle. This is a Class D felony.
- Misdemeanor death by vehicle. You could be charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle if you unintentionally killed another person while violating a State or local ordinance governing the operation of a motor vehicle, and this was the proximate cause of the death. A conviction would be a Class A1 misdemeanor.
- Felony serious injury by vehicle. If you unintentionally caused the serious injury of another person while driving when impaired, you could be convicted of a felony serious injury by vehicle offense if the intoxication was the proximate cause of the injuries. This offense is classified as a Class F felony.
- Aggravated felony death by vehicle. You could be charged with this offense instead of felony death by vehicle if you were convicted of a crime involving impaired driving within the last seven years. Otherwise, the offenses are the same. This is considered a Class F felony.
- Aggravated felony serious injury by vehicle. Like aggravated felony death, you could be charged with this if you have a previous conviction of another crime that involved impaired driving within seven years. It is a Class E felony.
Contact Our Charlotte DWI Attorneys for Help If You Have Been Charged With DWI
If you have been charged with any DWI offense, you need the assistance of an experienced DWI attorney to reach the best outcome possible. We are former Mecklenburg County Prosecutors and have a better understanding of how the prosecutor may handle your case and what could be necessary to get the charges dropped or reduced to a less serious offense. Call our office today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.