Answers to Your North Carolina DWI Questions
It’s natural to have many questions and concerns when you are arrested for drunk driving. What exactly does this charge mean for you and your family? What kind of legal options exist? How can you minimize the negative consequences? These questions and more are answered by the experienced attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC. Using their years of practice and knowledge of the law, they share their thoughts to many of your most common concerns.
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How do police decide who to stop for drunk driving in Charlotte?
Police officers in Mecklenburg County and North Carolina Highway Patrol are trained to look for numerous visual clues and driver behavior patterns when deciding whether to make an investigative stop of a drunk driving suspect. These visual clues, identified by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study on impaired drivers, help officers determine if there is enough reasonable suspicion to justify pulling you over for DWI.
Outside of DUI checkpoints, police must have reasonable suspicion to legally stop you for drunk driving.
How Police Determine Reasonable Suspicion for a DWI Stop
The visual clues identified by the NHTSA fall into one of the following four categories:
- Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position
- Speeding and Braking Problems
- Vigilance Problems
- Judgment Problems
Visual clues used to identify Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position include:
- Weaving within a lane
- Weaving across lane lines
- Straddling a lane line
- Turning with a wide radius
- Almost striking a vehicle or other object
Visual clues used to identify Speeding and Braking Problems include:
- Stopping problems (too far, too short, too jerky)
- Accelerating or decelerating for no apparent reason
- Varying speed
- Slow speed (10+ mph under limit)
Visual clues used to identify Vigilance Problems include:
- Driving in opposing lanes or wrong way on one way
- Slow response to traffic signals
- Slow or failure to respond to officer’s signals
- Stopping in lane for no apparent reason
- Driving without headlights at night
- Failure to signal or signal inconsistent with action
Visual clues used to identify Judgment Problems include:
- Following too closely
- Improper or unsafe lane change
- Illegal or improper turn (too fast, jerky, sharp)
- Driving on other than designated roadway
- Stopping inappropriately in response to officer
- Inappropriate or unusual behavior (throwing up, arguing)
- Appearing to be impaired
If an officer observed you exhibiting any of these behaviors, he may be legally justified in stopping you for drunk driving, but not always. For example, if you make an illegal turn, you have likely violated the law and an officer is likely justified in stopping you on that fact alone. On the other hand, if you were weaving within your own lane only, an officer is not likely going to be justified in stopping you. When a DWI stop is based on the driver weaving within a lane, North Carolina law generally requires weaving within a lane plus some other fact in order for an officer to make a stop.
Find Out if Your Charlotte DWI Could be Dropped
If an officer did not have a legal justification for pulling you over, it may be possible to have your drunk driving charge dismissed based on that lack of reasonable suspicion. If you have been arrested for DWI in the Charlotte metro area, contact a Mecklenburg County DWI defense attorney at Browning & Long, PLLC for a free consultation to evaluate your case and assist in making this determination.
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Will my NC driver’s license be suspended if I refuse to blow or if I'm arrested for DWI?
It depends. There are numerous instances where your driver's license will be revoked by North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for issues involving or related to driving under the influence. The most common scenarios where the DMV will revoke your driver’s license is when you (i) willfully refuse to submit to chemical analysis (i.e. breath or blood test), (ii) are charged with and/or arrested for driving under the influence, or (iii) are convicted of driving under the influence.
License Suspension for Willful Refusal to Breathalyzer or Chemical Testing
The laws of most states, including North Carolina, highly encourage a person suspected of driving under the influence to submit to chemical analysis (i.e. breath or blood test). Such laws do so through the consequences implemented when a person refuses such testing. Specifically, North Carolina General Statute (N.C.G.S.) 20-16.2(a)(1) informs a driving under the influence suspect that they may refuse any chemical test, but doing so will result in their driver’s license being revoked for a period of one year, and in some cases even longer.
This often means that if you refuse a chemical test, your driver's license will be revoked for one year. It's important to know the difference between the various breath-testing instruments and the consequences of refusing to blow in these devices. For example, an alcohol screening test, often referred to as a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT), is a breath test that is typically administered roadside before you are arrested. Refusing to submit to this test is not considered a willful refusal and will not revoke your driver's license for a period of one year. Thus, an alcohol screening test is not considered a chemical test for this purpose. However, a breath test using the Intoxilyzer 5000 or Intox EC/IR II, as well as a blood draw, are considered chemical tests. If you refuse to submit to these tests, your driver's license may be revoked for a period of one year. The Intoxilyzer 500 and Intox EC/IR II are generally administered after you have been arrested and left the scene.
License Suspension After Being Charged and/or Arrested for DWI
Under North Carolina General Statute (N.C.G.S.) 20-16.5(b), a person driving under the influence is subject to civil revocation of their driver’s license if the following applies:
- A law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person has committed an implied consent offense;
- The person is charged with an implied consent offense;
- The law enforcement officer and the chemical analyst comply with the procedures of G.S. 20-16.2 and G.S. 20-139.1 in requiring the person's submission to or procuring a chemical analysis; and
- The person
- Willfully refuses to submit to the chemical analysis;
- Has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more within a relevant time after the driving;
- Has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more at any relevant time after the driving of a commercial motor vehicle; or
- Has any alcohol concentration at any relevant time after the driving and the person is under 21 years of age.
When your driver's license is revoked under N.C.G.S. 20-16.5(b), 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 five (5) working days of the revocation (generally the day you were charged), the minimum revocation period is 30 days. If your driver’s license is not surrendered within five (5) working days of the revocation, the minimum revocation is generally 45 days from the date you surrender your driver’s license. Additionally, if you have a pending driving under the influence charge or other implied consent offense, your driver's license will be suspended indefinitely until all pending charges are resolved.
License Suspension After a Drunk Driving Conviction
A conviction for driving under the influence results in a mandatory revocation of a person’s driver’s license by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) under North Carolina General Statute (N.C.G.S.) 20-17(a)(2). The length of such driver’s license revocation largely depends on whether you have any prior impaired driving convictions, and if so, the amount of time that has passed since those convictions.
Contact Our Charlotte DWI License Restoration Lawyers
If your driver’s license has been revoked due to one of the three common scenarios discussed under this question, it is important to remember that there are often circumstances where a you may be able to legally drive with a limited driving privilege. A DWI defense attorney at Browning & Long, PLLC can assist you in getting you back on the road as soon as possible.
What factors will the court consider when sentencing me for a DUI conviction in Mecklenburg County?
If you have been convicted of DUI in Mecklenburg County, the level of punishment of you will face is determined by the existence and balancing of what are called grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, or mitigating factors. Several of the following legal terms can be difficult to grasp, so it's always best to consult with a DWI defense attorney if you've been charged.
Grossly Aggravating Factors for DUI Sentencing
Grossly aggravating factors are seen as more serious than aggravating factors. The State must prove any grossly aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. With that, the first step in determining the level of punishment you will face if convicted of DUI is to find out whether any grossly aggravating factors exist.
Four grossly aggravating factors:
- A prior conviction for a DUI related offense (See N.C.G.S. 20-4.01(24a) for the list of offenses) if:
- the prior conviction occurred within seven years of the current DUI offense date;
- the prior conviction occurred after the current DUI offense date, but before or at the same time as the sentencing in the current DUI case; or
- the prior conviction was in District Court, the conviction was appealed to Superior Court, the appeal was withdrawn or the case was remanded back to District Court, and a new sentencing hearing for the case has not been held.
- At the time of the current DUI offense, you drove while your driver’s license was revoked and the revocation was for a DUI revocation under N.C.G.S. 20-28.2(a).
- Your DUI caused serious injury to another person.
- At the time of the current DUI offense, you drove while:
- A child under the age of 18 years was in the vehicle
- A person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years was in the vehicle; or
- A person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle was in the vehicle.
Aggravating Factors for DUI Sentencing
As mentioned, aggravating factors are considered less serious than grossly aggravating factors. However, like grossly aggravating factors, the State must prove any aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. When there are no grossly aggravating factors, or where grossly aggravating factors exist but the judge decides to consider any aggravating and mitigating factors as well, the next step in DUI sentencing is to determine whether any aggravating factors exist.
Nine aggravating factors:
- Gross impairment of your faculties while driving or an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more.
- Especially reckless or dangerous driving.
- Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.
- Driving while your driver's license was revoked.
- Two or more prior convictions of certain motor vehicle offenses for which at least three points are assigned or which subject your driver’s license to revocation, if the convictions occurred within five years of the current offense, or one or more prior convictions of an offense involving DUI that occurred more than seven years before the current offense.
- Conviction under N.C.G.S. 20-141.5 of speeding to elude.
- Conviction under N.C.G.S. 20-141 of speeding by at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit.
- Passing a stopped school bus in violation of N.C.G.S. 20-217.
- Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.
Mitigating Factors for DUI Sentencing
After determining whether any aggravating factors exist, the next step in determining the appropriate level of punishment in DUI sentencing is to see if any mitigating factors exist. It is your burden to prove the existence of any mitigating factor by a preponderance of the evidence.
Eight mitigating factors:
- Slight impairment of your faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and an alcohol concentration that did not exceed 0.09 at any relevant time after the driving.
- Slight impairment of your faculties, resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analysis having been available to the defendant.
- Safe and lawful driving at the time of the offense, except for the DUI.
- A safe driving record.
- Impairment caused by a lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition, and the amount of the drug taken was within the prescribed dosage.
- Voluntary submission to a substance abuse assessment and voluntary participation in the recommended treatment.
- Completion of a substance abuse assessment, compliance with its recommendations, and simultaneously maintaining 60 days of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring system.
- Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.
DUI/DWI Sentencing Levels of Punishment
The determination of the appropriate DWI sentencing level of punishment involves balancing the presence of any grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, and mitigating factors mentioned above. The chart below summarizes the six sentencing levels and the corresponding punishments authorized by N.C.G.S. 20-179.
Aggravated Level One
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions Three or more grossly aggravating factors Up to $10,000 If suspended, must require 1-imprisonment of at least 120 days; AND 2-alcohol abstinence of at least 120 days to a maximum of the term of probation, as verified by CAM.
Imprisonment: 12 months minimum to 36 months maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions 1. Grossly aggravating factor in N.C.G.S. 20-179(c)(4); OR
2. Two other grossly aggravating factors
Up to $4,000 If suspended, must require 1-imprisonment of at least 30 days; OR 2-imprisonment of at least 10 days and alcohol abstinence and CAM for at least 120 days
Imprisonment: 30 days minimum to 24 months maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions One grossly aggravating factor Up to $2,000 If suspended, must require 1-imprisonment of at least 7 days; OR 2-alcohol abstinence and CAM for at least 90 days
Imprisonment: 7 days minimum to 12 months maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions Aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors Up to $1,000 If suspended, must require one or both of the following: 1-imprisonment for at least 72 hours 2-community service for a term of at least 72 hours
Imprisonment: 72 hours minimum to 6 months maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions No aggravating or mitigating factors or aggravating factors are substantially counterbalanced by mitigating factors Up to $500 If suspended, must require one or both of the following: 1-imprisonment for 48 hours 2-community service for a term of 48 hours
Imprisonment: 48 hours minimum to 120 days maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions Mitigating factors substantially outweigh aggravating factors Up to $200 If suspended, must require one or both of the following:
1-imprisonment for 24 hours
2-community service for a term of 24 hours
Imprisonment: 24 hours to 60 days maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Contact Our Charlotte DUI Lawyers if you have questions regarding a DWI arrest in Mecklenburg County by calling 980-224-4482.
- A prior conviction for a DUI related offense (See N.C.G.S. 20-4.01(24a) for the list of offenses) if:
Will I be required to install an interlock ignition device on my vehicle after a DWI conviction?
If you are convicted of DWI in North Carolina, your driver’s license could be suspended for 30 days for a first conviction and for longer for a subsequent conviction or failure to consent to a breathalyzer test at the time you were arrested. Losing your ability to drive can have long-term consequences on your ability to work and your ability to get where you need to go. In order to get your driving privileges restored, the court could require you to install an interlock ignition device.
What Is an Interlock Ignition Device?
An interlock ignition device is an alcohol-testing device that attaches to your dashboard and is similar to what is used to administer a breathalyzer test. You cannot turn on your vehicle until you blow into the device, and it measures your blood alcohol content. If it registers any level of alcohol, your ignition will not start. It also requires you to take the test at random times when you are driving. If you fail the test, your vehicle will shut down. In order to restart it, you would need to contact the system’s provider to reset it.
When Is an Ignition Interlock Device Required?
If this is a first offense DWI, you probably will not be required to install an ignition interlock device. However, the court would order it installed in these situations:
- You were convicted of DWI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over 0.15 percent.
- You were convicted of more than one DWI during a seven-year period.
Who Pays for Installation and Maintenance of This Device?
Unfortunately, you must pay for the installation and monthly rental and maintenance fees for the ignition interlock device and must obtain it from a court-approved facility. This can be costly over time.
Have you been charged with DWI in Charlotte? Call us or start an online chat to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced DWI attorneys. We will be happy to discuss your case with you and how we can help ensure that the penalties you face are as minor as possible.
Can my DWI charge be reduced to wet reckless in North Carolina?
A DWI conviction comes with harsh penalties, such as a jail sentence, fine of up to $10,000, driver’s license suspension, and a permanent criminal record. If you are charged with this offense, it is essential that you retain an experienced DWI attorney who can build a strong defense to charges you face. In some states, prosecutors will reduce a DWI to something called a Wet Reckless, however, in North Carolina this in not an option.
When Can Your Charges Be Pled Down to a Wet Reckless Offense?
In other states or jurisdictions, a wet reckless is a reckless driving offense involving alcohol. It is less serious than a DWI conviction but a more serious offense than a reckless driving conviction that does not involve alcohol. Prosecutors consider reducing a DWI to a wet reckless if this is your first offense of DWI and mitigating circumstances are present. These mitigating circumstances include:
- This is your first offense of DWI in North Carolina and any other state.
- Your impairment was due to alcohol and not any other substance, such as drugs.
- Your blood alcohol content (BAC) was 1.0 percent or lower.
- You have a safe driving record.
- You were polite and cooperative when arrested.
Why Is a Wet Reckless Not an Option in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, there is not such thing as a wet reckless. The Legislature did not create a crime called a wet reckless or any other lesser included offense to a DWI. Accordingly, North Carolina District Attorney's do not offer to reduce DWI charges. They either proceed to trial on the DWI charge or dismiss the case if there is insufficient evidence.
How an Experienced DWI Attorney Can Help.
Although a DWI charge will not be reduced in North Carolina, if you a charged with multiple crimes along with your DWI an experienced attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to have those charges dismissed pursuant to a plea. Additionally, an experienced DWI attorney will thoroughly examine all aspects of your DWI investigation to determine if a mistake was made or a right was violated. If so, a skilled attorney will be able to advocate for a dismissal of your DWI charge or take it to trial.
Contact Us for Help Today
If you have been arrested for DWI in Charlotte, you need an experienced DWI attorney on your side if you hope to successfully fight a DWI charge. To learn how our skilled lawyers can assist you, start an online chat to schedule your free consultation today.
Can the police search my car after pulling me over for driving while impaired in North Carolina?
Under the United States and North Carolina constitutions, you are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, this means that the police must obtain a search warrant before searching your vehicle. However, there are exceptions to this rule when a police officer stops you for driving while impaired (DWI) in North Carolina.
When Can the Police Search Your Vehicle Without a Search Warrant When Stopping You for DWI?
There are a number of exceptions to the rule against unreasonable searches and seizures that allow the police to search a vehicle without a warrant when stopping someone for DWI. These include the following:
- Probable cause. If the police have probable cause to believe that you are participating in criminal activity or that there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle, they can search your vehicle without a warrant. Examples of probable cause include seeing something in plain view, such as a gun or drugs, smelling marijuana or alcohol in your vehicle, or observing your bloodshot eyes or an odor of alcohol.
- Searches incident to your arrest. The police may be allowed to search your vehicle incident to your arrest to look for guns or other evidence relating to your arrest.
- Consent. If you consent to the search of your vehicle, the police would be permitted to do so. You should not consent to the search of your vehicle as you would be waiving your right to challenge the search if evidence is found that can be used against you. Your refusal to permit a search without a search warrant cannot be used against you later in court.
What Should You Do If You’re Pulled Over?
If the police stop you, remain calm and polite. You should stop your vehicle, roll down the window, and put your hands on your steering wheel where they are in plain view. You should also say as little as possible while answering the officer’s basic questions.
Have you been arrested for DWI in Mecklenburg County? Our experienced DWI defense attorneys are here to answer your questions and help you build a strong defense to the charges that you face. Fill out our online form or call our Charlotte office to schedule your free initial consultation.
How can I challenge my blood test results in my DWI case?
In North Carolina, a conviction for driving while impaired (DWI) comes with very harsh penalties, such as large fines, a jail sentence, and suspension of your driver’s license. In addition, DWI is a misdemeanor offense in North Carolina and a conviction would result in a permanent criminal record. Fortunately, there are defenses to these charges that you could have even if you are guilty of driving when intoxicated that may result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. One powerful defense may be to challenge the results of your blood test.
Blood Tests in North Carolina DWI Criminal Cases
In North Carolina, police officers are permitted to obtain the amount of alcohol on your breath or blood as evidence to be used against you in a DWI case. The amount of alcohol on your breath is tested through the use of a breath testing machine, and the amount in your blood is tested through a blood test. If you do not consent to this testing, the police would need to obtain a warrant to conduct the test, which they would often obtain. However, under North Carolina’s implied consent laws, you imply consent to this testing and would face harsh penalties for refusing the test, such as automatic revocation of your driver’s license and your refusal being used as evidence in your DWI case.
Common Challenges to Blood Test Results in DWI Cases in NC
A blood test is conducted by drawing your blood and testing it, and it tends to be the most reliable testing procedure. However, this does not mean that the results are always right. If you are successful in challenging the result, the prosecutor may not be able to use the most important piece of evidence against you, and the charges against you may be dismissed. Questions regarding the reliability of the tests may also help to obtain a more favorable plea agreement where the charges are reduced to a much less serious offense.
There are a number of defenses to blood test results, and which one is applicable in your case will depend on your facts. Your experienced DWI attorney will be able to identify the best defenses in your case. Here are some defenses that may apply to your case:
- Lack of qualifications. The person administering the test must be qualified to do so. Your attorney can examine the training and experience of the person who administered your test to see if this is a basis for a defense. Even if the person was qualified, if there are other questions of his competency, such as cases of his falsifying records, this could lead to challenging the use of the blood test against you.
- Chain of custody. In DWI cases, the police are required to follow specific guidelines in handling the evidence—including the blood drawn from you and your test results. To ensure that they were not tampered with, the police must account for them at all times or the chain of custody may be broken. Mislabeling the test tube or misplacing it for a period of time are two examples of when the chain of custody might be broken. If the chain of custody is broken in your case, the blood test result could be excluded from evidence in your criminal case.
- Calibration. Blood testing machines often need to be calibrated, like breathalyzers, to ensure that they work properly. In some cases, the calibration of the equipment used in a blood test may not be properly done and could lead to an error in the results. In this situation, the test results could be excluded or the accuracy questioned.
- Storage. Blood samples must be properly stored or it can result in elevated error rates. The yeast, sugar, and bacteria in the blood can ferment if not stored correctly—which can lead to inaccurate test results. If your blood sample was improperly stored, the results may be inadmissible.
Let Us Help Raise All Your Defenses in Your DWI Case
Were you charged with DWI? An experienced DWI defense attorney can help you aggressively fight the charges you face. We have the added benefit of being former prosecutors so we understand how they approach these cases. To learn more about how we can help you build a strong defense, call our office today to schedule a free consultation.
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.
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.