The Burden of Proof is on the State of North Carolina to Prove You Are Guilty During a DWI Trial

If you have been charged with Driving While Impaired (DWI) in Charlotte, or elsewhere in North Carolina, you should not automatically assume you are guilty. DWI law is complex, and as a result, often difficult for the prosecutor to prove each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt which is necessary to convict someone of a criminal offense.

Elements of a DWI Case That Must be Proved for a Conviction

To prove that you are guilty of DWI, the State will analyze the specific details of your case and compare these against North Carolina's DWI laws. They will have to prove the following four things beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you of an impaired driving offense:

  1. Driving: The State must show that you were the person who was driving.
  2. A vehicle: The State must prove that the device you were driving was a vehicle. 
  3. While impaired: The State must establish that you were under the influence of an impairing substance.
  4. On a street, highway, or public vehicular area within North Carolina: The State must demonstrate that the vehicle you were driving was driven on a street, highway, or public vehicular area in this state.

Proving “Driving” in a DWI Case

The term “driving,” as it is used in driving while impaired  has the same meaning as "operating". Both of these terms indicate that you must have been in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while (a) the vehicle's engine was running or (b) the vehicle was actually in motion. Either is often enough to prove that you were driving, even if you were simply sitting in the driver's seat while the engine was turned on.

For the purposes of DWI laws, the definition of driving is much broader than the word’s ordinary meaning. While it may be easier for the State to convict you of DWI if you were behind the wheel of a car that is in motion, there is no requirement that this be established to prove that you were driving. The definition even goes so far as to allow the State to prove driving even where your purpose of getting in the car was not to drive. 

The State frequently has more difficulty proving driving in DWI cases that involve car accidents. 

What Qualifies as a "Vehicle" in DWI Cases?

You could probably guess most of the types of vehicles that are classified as a "vehicle". However, there are a few others on the list below that qualify for DWI purposes that may surprise you.

  • Cars
  • Trucks
  • Buses
  • Motorcycles
  • Mopeds
  • Golf Carts
  • ATVs
  • Bicycles

Proving the Driver was "Impaired" 

In a Mecklenburg County DWI trial, the State must establish that you were under the influence of an impairing substance which is defined as alcohol, a controlled substance, or any other drug or psychoactive substance capable of impairing a person’s physical or mental faculties. This may even include a lawfully prescribed drug taken within the prescribed dosage.

These are two different ways the State may attempt to establish that you were under the influence of one of these impairing substances:

  1. The State may show that you had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. This is typically done by admitting the results of any chemical analysis (i.e. breath test or blood test) during trial.
  2. The State may demonstrate that you were appreciably impaired. This means that your mental or physical condition, or both, were capable of being perceived as impaired. This is normally done through numerous pieces of evidence, including your bad driving, poor performance on field sobriety tests (i.e. HGN, One Leg Stand, and Walk and Turn), and post stop cues such as slurred speech, odor of alcohol, difficulty exiting the vehicle, and more.

Proving the DWI Occurred in a "Public Vehicular Area" in North Carolina  

The wording in North Carolina's DWI laws regarding where you were driving while impaired is blatantly broad. A public vehicular area or PVA encompasses almost any public location used for vehicular travel. For example, you could be charged for DWI in a driveway, alley, cart path, drive-in theater, gas station, beach area used by the public for vehicular travel, private property posted as a PVA, and parking lot of any hospital, college, university, school, or church.

Highways and streets essentially mean the same thing and include all property in a roadway that is open for use by the public for purposes of vehicular travel. While incredibly broad, in terms of DWI law, highways and streets likely do not include roads under construction, private roads, or roads that are not owned or maintained by the government.

Contact Our Charlotte DWI Lawyers for a Free Consultation

If you have been arrested for DWI, it is in your best interest to contact us to discuss the specific facts of your case. As former Mecklenburg County Prosecutors, we understand better than anyone what the other side is looking for and most likely to focus on during your DWI trial. Call us now at (980) 207-3355 for your free, no obligation consultation. Doing so could be the difference between a DWI conviction on your record and a verdict of not guilty. 


Howard W. Long, II
Charlotte Criminal Defense and DWI Lawyer

Our Approach To DWI Cases

Simply being charged with DWI in North Carolina often results in your driver’s license being revoked for a minimum of 30 days. However, we can typically get your driving privileges reinstated almost immediately. We do this by either, first, challenging this civil license revocation, or second, getting you a limited driving privilege.
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Whether you realize it or not, a considerable amount of evidence exists regarding your DWI charge, much of which is vital to an effective defense of your case. We will review your court file, subpoena necessary documents, videos, and notes, and file the appropriate pretrial motions in a timely manner.
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As former prosecutors, we are aware of all the potential defenses that may be available to you. We do not automatically assume you intend to plead guilty and face the harsh consequences associated with a DWI conviction. We pledge we will examine every possible defense and take your case to trial if it is in your best interest.
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While it’s our goal to win every DWI case we have, it’s simply not possible for any attorney to win every time. If you are ultimately convicted of DWI, we will help you take every step possible to reduce the potential penalties, such as avoiding jail time, keeping you driving, reducing monetary costs, and more.
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