You may have heard that a DUI is a felony, but is that true? In North Carolina, the answer is complicated. Whether or not you will be charged with a felony for a DWI conviction depends on several factors, including your driving history and the severity of the offense. If you’re arrested for drunk driving, it’s important to understand your rights and what you can expect during the judicial process. Let’s look at how DWI charges work in NC.

DUI vs. DWI

According to North Carolina law, a DUI offense or DUI arrest is the same as a DWI charge. So any “Driving Under the Influence” DUI offenses are called “Driving While Impaired” DWI offenses in NC.

In NC, you can face an arrest and DUI criminal charges if you:

  • Fail a field sobriety test
  • Breathalyzer test over the legal limit of .08% (or higher) blood alcohol content, or BAC.
  • Breathalyzer test over the legal limit of .04% blood alcohol content for commercial drivers
  • Chemical testing shows other substances causing impaired driving
  • Refuse a breathalyzer or further chemical testing to display your blood alcohol level or other impairing substances

In DUI cases, even with a first or second DUI, you can spend up to one year in jail! If convicted of a DUI, your prison sentencing depends on your case’s circumstances! This is why working with an experienced DWI defense attorney is crucial for the best outcome!

Let’s look at the levels of DWI in NC next.

DWI Levels in North Carolina

Minimum Level V

Even with this lowest level of DWI in NC, you can face fines up to $200 and a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours. You can spend up to 60 days in jail, depending on whether the judge suspends your sentence. The judge may also order you to perform 24 hrs community service and not drive a car for 30 days or more.

Level IV

The second lowest level of DWI in NC can bring fines up to $500 and a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours. You can face a prison sentence of up to 120 days, depending on whether the judge suspends your sentence. The judge may also order you to perform 48 hrs community service and not drive a car for 60 days or more.

Level III

A Level 3 DWI in NC can bring fines up to $1,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours. You can spend up to 6 months in jail, depending on whether the judge suspends your sentence. The judge may also order you to perform 72 hrs community service and not drive a car for 90 days or more.

Level II

A Level 2 DWI in NC can bring fines up to $2,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 7 days. You can also spend up to 1 year in prison and face a probationary period.

Level I

A Level 1 DWI in NC can bring fines up to $4,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days. You can also spend up to 2 years in prison and face a probationary period.

Aggravated Level I

An Aggravated Level 1 DWI in NC can bring fines up to $10,000 and a minimum jail sentence of one year! You can also spend up to 3 years in prison and face a probationary period.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help guide you through this difficult time if you’re facing charges!

Misdemeanor DUI (DWI)

Even though most NC DWIs are misdemeanors, that doesn’t mean the consequences are not harsh! Your penalties depend on your prior DWI convictions and any aggravating and mitigating factors.

If you are caught driving while impaired, you will face several penalties and consequences, which may include the following:

  • Court costs and fines
  • Loss of license or limited driving privileges (revocation or suspension of driver’s license)
  • Community service or probation
  • Substance abuse assessments and time in mental health facilities
  • Revocation of professional licenses
  • Higher car insurance premiums or inability to become insured
  • Prison time and “minimum jail sentence” with prior convictions
  • Other motor vehicle offense charges, including dangerous driving
  • Ignition interlock device
  • Continuous Alcohol Monitoring System

An experienced DWI attorney is necessary to find strategic defenses to your charges!

Felony DUI (DWI)

Felony DUI charges are a big deal! It’s not like long ago when people drove around drinking beers! A felony DUI conviction because of multiple DUI arrests can put you in prison for one to five years!

If you have had three typically charged prior DUI convictions within the past ten years, you can face conviction for felony DUIs. The NC habitual DWI statute mandates a minimum active jail term of one year — a sentence that a judge won’t suspend. A fourth DUI offense within 10 years is a Class F felony offense, with offenders required to go through a substance abuse program, or DUI school, while in jail or as a condition of parole. (1)

While DWI/DUI is generally a misdemeanor, you can face other felony charges connected to your DUI charge. A DUI felony conviction is possible if you cause:

  • Felony death by vehicle (Class D felony)
  • Felony serious injury by vehicle (Class F felony)
  • Aggravated felony death by vehicle (Class F felony)
  • Aggravated felony serious injury by vehicle (Class E felony)

A felony charge for DWI in NC can bring a stay in the state prison system of at least one year and a permanent criminal record that is not expugnable!

Sentencing Depends on Many Factors

Aggravating factors increase mandatory minimum fine amounts and jail time. Criminal penalties for DUI charges become stiffer with more aggravating factors.

These aggravating factors may include the following: 

  • Driving with a revoked license
  • Passing a stopped school bus
  • BAC of 0.15% or gross impairment of the driver’s faculties
  • Driving dangerously or recklessly
  • Negligent driving leading to an accident
  • Fleeing or attempting to avoid arrest while speeding
  • Driving at 30 mph or more over the speed limit
  • Two or more prior convictions for a traffic violation costing three points
  • One or more prior DUI convictions more than seven years before the current offense

Grossly aggravating factors are a whole other level of seriousness above aggravating factors. These may include:

  • Prior DUI conviction within the past seven years. For example, if you faced a conviction for a DUI criminal offense last year, you could be looking at more prison time.
  • Prior conviction for DUI after your current offense but before sentencing
  • Arrest for DUI while driving on a prior DUI offense suspended license. For example, if the court suspended your license for 30 days following a first-offense DUI, you could now face serious felony charges for driving on your suspended license.
  • DUI accident that causes serious bodily harm, serious bodily injury, or death
  • DUI driving with a child under 18 or a person with a disability in your car. You can also face child endangerment charges.

If a court determines that three or more grossly aggravating factors exist, the judge will impose Aggravated Level One punishment. If two grossly aggravating factors exist, the judge will impose Level One punishment. The judge will impose Level Two DUI punishment if only one grossly aggravating factor applies. (2)

With the help of a qualified attorney, you can find a defense that will limit the penalties you may face.

Influence the Court in Your Favor for a Misdemeanor or Felony DUI

Mitigating circumstances are the factors a judge may look at to reduce your penalties. These factors include driving impaired while you were:

  • Possessing a safe driving record or no convictions worth 4 points or higher
  • Following the law and driving safely while impaired
  • Taking prescribed medication according to the proper dosage
  • Polite and cooperative with the officer 

Or if you:

  • Voluntarily checked yourself into a mental health facility for assessment
  • Completed a substance abuse evaluation, complied with court recommendations, and abstained from alcohol for 60 days using continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) system.

Avoiding a DUI Conviction

At Hogan, Edwards, and Blue law firm, our DWI defense lawyers are ready to strategize your DUI defense whether you’re facing a third conviction or this is your first-time offense. We understand that if you were convicted of DUI before, it’s crucial to mount your best criminal defense!

Get in touch for a free consultation and find out how we can help build your defense!