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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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.
How can I get a misdemeanor drug possession charge dropped in Mecklenburg County?
In Charlotte, there are a number of different misdemeanor drug possession offenses that a person may be charged with, including possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Being charged with such a crime, or any other misdemeanor drug possession charge, is a serious offense. Simply being charged can potentially impact all areas of your life, from employment, to educational and housing opportunities. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor drug possession offense, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Browning & Long, PLLC to help protect your rights.
The attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC will not only help you understand your rights, but will also explore all possible defenses to ensure that you do not face any unnecessary consequences associated with your misdemeanor drug possession charge. This includes investigating every aspect of your case, and using the techniques described below to ultimately get your case dismissed, or dropped.
Potential Legal Issues with Drug Charges
If you were charged with a misdemeanor drug crime, do not assume that you are guilty. As former prosecutors, we understand the intricacies of the law and are aware of potential defenses that may be available in your misdemeanor drug case. Specifically, we will examine the following scenarios to ensure the police acted lawfully in charging and/or arresting you. If they did not act lawfully, it is likely that your misdemeanor drug crime will be dropped.
- Did the police have a lawful reason to stop you?
- Did the police have a valid reason to search the place or area they did?
- Were you aware of the illegal item or drug’s presence in the place it was located?
- Did you have possession of the illegal item or drug the police claim you did?
- Is the illegal item or drug what the police claim it is?
Drug Education Class in Charlotte
If, after thoroughly reviewing your situation, we determine that there are not any available legal defenses in your case, there are still other potential options to ultimately get your misdemeanor drug charge dropped. In certain situations, we can negotiate with the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office to have you complete a drug education class for dismissal of your misdemeanor drug charge. Generally, this drug education class must be completed at a service provider approved by the prosecutor’s office. Exceptions may be made for our clients who reside outside of Charlotte. In either case, the class must be attended in-person and requires 15 hours of instruction. By retaining Browning & Long, PLLC, this all can be accomplished without you ever attending court.
North Carolina G.S. 90-96 – Conditional Discharge of Drug Charges
Even if the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office refuses to allow you to complete a drug education class for dismissal of your misdemeanor drug charge, you may be eligible to have your case dismissed through a process known as conditional discharge. While case-specific, this process typically has several requirements, including the following:
- You either plead guilty or are found guilty of the misdemeanor drug possession offense
- You not have any prior convictions for certain criminal offenses, including felonies
- You complete an approved drug education class as directed by the court
- You satisfy any other requirements set by the court, such as community service and fines
- You are not charged with any new criminal charges within a designated period of time
Once you successfully complete the requirements ordered in your case, the judge shall discharge and dismiss the misdemeanor drug charges against you. This dismissal occurs without any judgment of guilt and is not considered a conviction. You are also eligible to file for an expunction, also known as expungement, of your criminal record, that is the fact that you were charged, under North Carolina G.S. 15A-145.2.
Do You Need Help With A Criminal Matter?
The criminal defense attorneys at Browning & Long PLLC have handle many misdemeanor drug charge cases and can help you get a favorable outcome too. Contact our office at 980-224-4482 or by submitting a contact form.
Can I Refuse a Breathalyzer Test? Are There Penalties for Refusing to Blow?
Immedicately following a DWI arrest in Charlotte, the arresting officer will take you to the police station and ask you to blow into a machine, specifically the Intoximeter Model Intox EC/IR II, to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Although the officers will likely make you feel like you have to blow, you are not required to submit a breathalyzer test. It should be noted that this test differs from the field sobriety tests and preliminary breath tests the officers asked you to submit to on the side of the road. For these, we strongly suggest you refuse them, as the results will only be used against you.
By refusing, you could potentially be strengthening your case by not giving the police access to the most incriminating piece of evidence against you in a DWI case; that is, your BAC. However, if you do not provide a breath, blood, or urine sample at this time, it will be considered a refusal.
What Qualifies as a Refusal in a DWI Case?
Under North Carolina law, a person will be deemed to have "willfully refused" if he or she has been asked to submit to a chemical analysis such as a breath, blood, or urine sample and has been advised of his or her right to refuse the test, does not provide a sample, or allows the prescribed time limit in which the test must be taken to expire.
The most common refusal is when a person simply declines to blow into the machine, however, there are many more scenarios in which an officer can allege that you refused. "Allege" is the key word here. For example, an officer can accuse you of refusing for simply not listening to his or her instructions.
In light of the significant consequences that can come along with a refusal, we wanted to highlight the level of subjectivity involved in determining whether or not a refusal occurred. For reference, we've provided some examples from old DWI cases in North Carolina in which a person was accused of refusal:
- Declining to remove an object from your mouth at the request of the law enforcement officer
- Smoking in violations of instruction not to
- Being unruly so that the proper procedures could not be completed
- Refusing to blow until your attorney arrives after the 30 minutes allowing an attorney or witness to arrive has expired
- Failure to provide an adequate sample of your breath
- Failure to provide a second sample of your breath or a third sample if first two samples were not within 0.02 of each other
Unfortunately, in North Carolina it is very easy for an officer to allege that you refused.
Penalties for Breathalyzer Refusal in Mecklenburg County
Even though you are not legally required to provide a breath or blood sample after an DWI arrest, the laws of North Carolina practically force you to do so by imposing strict penalties including both criminal and civil penalties. Additionally, an officer can obtain a search warrant and compel you to provide a sample of your blood. In this scenario, the State not only has your BAC but you also face the consequences of refusing.
Criminal Consequences for Refusal in DWI Cases (N.C.G.S. 10-139.1(f))
During your DWI trial, the State will use your refusal against you in court. The prosecutor can provide evidence to the court that you refused to submit to a chemical analysis and they will argue that your choice (to exercise your legal right) to refuse to submit a breath, blood, or urine sample is an indication of guilt.
N.C.G.S. 20-139.1(f) states “if any person charged with an implied-consent offense refuses to submit to a chemical analysis or to perform field sobriety tests at the request of an officer, evidence of that refusal is admissible in any criminal, civil, or administrative action against the person.”
License Suspension for Refusal in DWI Cases (N.C.G.S. 20-16.2)
More serious than the criminal implications described above are the sanctions imposed by the North Carolina DMV. When you refuse to submit to a chemical analysis, your driver’s license will be suspended for a minimum of one full year. Click here for more details on license suspension penalties for drunk driving charges.
We understand the devastating impact associated with not being able to drive for 12 months and can advise you of your options for challenging a license revocation. Our attorneys can appeal your revocation before the DMV and, if necessary, a Superior Court Judge. Additionally, we can help you apply for a limited driving privilege if you qualify. The time frame to appeal your driver’s license revocation is very short.
Can the Refusal be Challenged or Dismissed?
There are ways to challenge a refusal and potentially have it dropped completely.
Police officers are required to inform you of your rights and must follow strict procedures when administering tests to determine your BAC. If the officer fails to properly inform you of your rights or does not properly conduct the test, your refusal can be dismissed. Additionally, if the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop you or probable cause to arrest you, your refusal can be rescinded.
Contact Our Charlotte DWI Defense & Breathalyzer Refusal Lawyers
If you have been accused of refusing to submit a chemical analysis following your DWI arrest in Mecklenburg County, we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you and thoroughly review the details of your case to determine if it is appropriate for you to challenge your refusal. Call Browning & Long, PLLC today at 980-207-3355 for a free legal consultation.
Are there better options than a Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC) for speeding tickets?
Yes, if you have been charged with a speeding offense or other traffic violation in North Carolina there are potential options that are more beneficial than using a PJC.
Depending on the speeding offense or traffic violation you were charged with, as well as your prior driving history, you may qualify for a reduction to other offenses such as:
- Improper Equipment
- Failure to Notify the DMV of Address Change
Unlike most traffic offenses like speeding tickets and reckless driving, offenses such as these will not result in points on your North Carolina driver’s license or insurance. In fact, Failure to Notify the DMV of Address Change generally doesn’t even show up on your driving history.
Even if you don’t qualify for a reduction to a traffic offense such as Improper Equipment or Failure to Notify DMV of Address Change, in many situations a simple reduction in your speed may be more beneficial than using a PJC. Again, this is very fact specific but largely depends on if and when you, or another person on your insurance policy, have been convicted of a speeding offense or other traffic violation.
Contact Our Charlotte Traffic Ticket Defense Lawyers
Browning & Long, PLLC can help you determine if you may qualify for a reduction to Improper Equipment, Failure to Notify DMV of Address Change, or speed reduction. Contact us now for a free consultation.
What are the benefits of using a Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC) for my NC traffic violation?
The major benefits of receiving a Prayer for Judgment Continued pertains to driver’s license points and insurance premium surcharges. Since a PJC is not a judgment, the underlying speeding ticket or traffic violation that you used it for will not count as a conviction. As a result, no points will go on your North Carolina driver’s license and your insurance premiums won't increase.
Can I Use a PJC for my Charlotte Traffic Ticket Case?
While a Prayer for Judgment Continued may be used for a variety of North Carolina offenses, it is most frequently used for traffic offenses such as speeding and reckless driving charges. However, if you have been charged with certain traffic violations you will not be able to receive the benefits of a PJC.
Charges that are excluded from using a PJC include the following:
- Speeding violations in excess of 25 mph over the speed limit
- Passing a stopped school bus
Additionally, if you hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL), or were driving a commercial vehicle, a PJC will not prevent a speeding offense or other traffic violation from counting as a conviction. And if you are licensed in a state other than North Carolina and receive a PJC for a North Carolina speeding offense or traffic violation, it’s possible - and likely - that your state will not recognize that PJC; thus, the conviction will count against you.
How Many Times Can I Use a PJC in North Carolina?
For purposes of driver’s license points, a third or subsequent PJC within a five-year period will count as a conviction. With regard to insurance premiums, a second PJC during a three-year period will result in a conviction. This ultimately results in increased insurance premiums based on both the original PJC and new PJC, both of which will now count as convictions.
To further complicate matters, you may not be able to benefit from a PJC if you, or another person on your insurance policy, has previously used a PJC. For insurance purposes, PJCs are accumulated by everyone on your insurance policy, not just you.
Find Out if a PJC Will Work for Your Case
While a Prayer for Judgment Continued sounds great, there may be better options for you. Not only may there be better options than a PJC, but your specific situation could prevent you from receiving any of the benefits.
The inner workings of a PJC are extremely complex. Contact our Charlotte traffic ticket defense attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC for a free legal consultation to determine if a PJC is right for you.
What is the difference between DWI and DUI in North Carolina?
To begin, DWI stands for Driving While Impaired; DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence. While the correct legal term for impaired driving in North Carolina is Driving While Impaired (DWI), there is no practical difference between it and Driving Under the Influence (DUI), or one of the many other terms used to describe impaired driving, including the following.
- Driving While Impaired (DWI)
- Driving While Intoxicated
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Operating a Motor Vehicle Impaired (OMVI)
- Operating a Vehicle Impaired (OVI)
- Operating While Impaired (OWI)
- Operating While Intoxicated
- Operating Under the Influence (OUI)
- Drunk Driving
- Drugged Driving
Speak To A Charlotte DWI Lawyer Today
Regardless of what you called it, being convicted of DWI in Charlotte, North Carolina indicates that you drove a motor vehicle while you were impaired by some impairing substance. It is not necessary for the impairing substance to be alcohol as some of the terms above would indicate (i.e. Driving While Intoxicated, Operating While Intoxicated, or Drunk Driving). In fact, it is possible to be convicted of DWI when you are impaired by a substance other than alcohol, including, but not limited to, marijuana, cocaine, and prescription medications. Thus, the term Driving While Impaired, or DWI for short, was created to include any and all substances that a person may consume that might impair their ability to drive.
More DWI Information:
Can I purchase a handgun in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina if I'm convicted of DWI?
As is often the case with the law, the answer to this question is “it depends.” Generally, you must have either a North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit or a North Carolina Handgun Purchase Permit to purchase a handgun. The Concealed Handgun Permit allows you to carry a handgun concealed in certain situations, while the Handgun Purchase Permit simply allows you to purchase a handgun.
In North Carolina there are many requirements you must meet in order to obtain one of the handgun permits mentioned above, as well as many reasons to deny you from obtaining one of these permits. This FAQ does not address all these requirements and reasons for disqualification, just those that pertain to DWI convictions. So let’s take a look at the requirements to obtain each type of permit as it concerns DWI.
North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit and DWI Convictions
As hinted at, the North Carolina General Statutes (N.C.G.S.) dictate who qualifies for a North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit. As these statutes pertain directly to DWI, you cannot be granted such a permit if you have been convicted of an impaired driving offense listed below within three years prior to the date your application is submitted. Those impaired driving offenses include the following:
This essentially means that if you have been convicted of one of these three offenses, you must wait three years from the date of your conviction to submit your application for your North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit.
To read more about the other requirements to obtain a North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit, see N.C.G.S. 14-415.12.
North Carolina Handgun Purchase Permit and DWI Convictions
Even if you don’t qualify to get your North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit because of an impaired driving conviction, you may still be able to purchase a handgun by obtaining your North Carolina Handgun Purchase Permit. As it pertains to DWI, the relevant law indicates that such a permit may not be issued to you if you are under an indictment for or have been convicted in any state, or in any court of the United States, of a felony. Since DWI related convictions are typically classified as misdemeanors and not felonies, North Carolina law does not seem to prohibit you from purchasing a handgun by obtaining your North Carolina Handgun Purchase Permit when you are convicted of DWI.
To read more about the other requirements to obtain a North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit, see N.C.G.S. 14-404.
Although North Carolina law does not seem to prohibit it, the better inquiry may regard federal law; that is, under federal law does a DWI conviction prohibit you from possessing a handgun?
Can my NC driver's license be revoked for speeding?
Yes. Regardless of your driving history, if you are convicted of certain speeding offenses your North Carolina driver’s license may potentially be revoked by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). These speeding offenses include the following:
- A conviction for speeding greater than 75 mph in a zone less than 70 mph
- A conviction for speeding greater than 80 mph in a 70 mph zone
- A conviction for speeding greater than 15 mph above the speed limit in a 55 mph zone
- A conviction for speeding greater than 80 mph
This means that even if you have a perfectly clean driving record, being convicted of one of the above speeding offenses can cause your driver's license to be revoked. These revocations generally result in a 30-day suspension. However, a limited driving privilege may be available for first time offenders.
Other Speeding Violations That Can Revoke Your License
Other than those traffic violations listed above, there are also other speeding violations that can potentially revoke your North Carolina driver’s license that depend more on your driving history. These speeding offenses include the following:
- Two or more convictions for speeding greater than 55 mph, both of which occur within a 12-month period
- One conviction for speeding greater than 55 mph and one conviction of reckless driving, both of which occur within a 12-month period
- One conviction for speeding greater than 55 mph and one conviction of aggressive driving, both of which occur with a 12-month period
Get Your Driver's License Restored
If you think you fall into any of the categories above, it is important to contact an experienced speeding ticket attorney at Browning & Long, PLLC. These skilled lawyers may be able to help you avoid a license revocation by discussing your legal options, such as speed reductions, a Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC), and more. Call (980) 207-3355 now for your free consultation.