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.

Have You Been Arrested for a DWI in Charlotte, NC?

If you are facing DWI charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.


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