DWI Punishment Levels in North Carolina

There are essentially 6 different levels of DWI punishments/sentences one can face if convicted of a DWI/DUI (impaired driving offense) in North Carolina.  These levels range from Level 5 being the least severe punishment to an Aggravated Level 1 (or A1) being the most severe punishment.  These punishments can be found in N.C.G.S. §20-179.

If the State is able to produce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of impaired driving, then a judge must conduct a sentencing hearing to determine the proper sentencing level.  A Judge will consider a number of aggravating and mitigating factors (see below for an explanation on factors).  During this sentencing hearing the State again bears the burden of proving the existence of any sentencing factors beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you have been charged with DWI in Wake County, contact Raleigh criminal defense attorney Chris Dozier today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your DWI case.  Having tried nearly 1,000 DWI trials and pre-trial motions in both District and Superior Court, Chris will fight for your case to ensure that your rights are protected.

Below is a description of a possible punishments for each level:

Level 5 DWI Punishment:

This is the least severe punishment where there are no aggravating or mitigating factors, or the mitigating factors substantially outweigh any aggravating factors.

An offender can generally be sentenced to a minimum of 24 hours in jail or 24 hours community service, with a maximum sentence of 120 days, a fine up to $200, court costs, some type of probation (normally it is unsupervised), a requirement that a defendant complete a substance abuse assessment and comply with any recommended treatment or education and comply with any other conditions of probation the judge may impose.  One will need to complete the substance abuse treatment in order to be eligible for a limited driving privilege and prior to full restoration of one’s drivers license.

If you are convicted of a Level 5 DWI, your drivers license will be suspended for a year.  There is also a possibility that you can obtain a limited driving privilege during that year of suspension allowing you to drive to work, school and for the maintenance of the household.

Level 4 DWI Punishment:

A Level 4 DWI sentence is imposed if there are no aggravating or mitigating factors present, or the aggravating factors are substantially counterbalanced by any mitigating factors.

An offender can generally be sentenced to a minimum of 48 hours in jail to a maximum of 120 days in jail, a fine up to $500 and court costs. The active sentence may be suspended if the defendant serves a term of 48 hours in jail as a condition of probation or completes at least 48 hours of community service. If probation (supervised or unsupervised) is imposed, the defendant will be required to complete a substance abuse assessment and complete the recommended treatment or education and comply with any other condition of probation the judge should impose.

Level 3 DWI Punishment:

A Level 3 DWI sentence is imposed if there are no grossly aggravating factors present and the aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors.

An offender can generally be sentenced to a minimum of 72 hours in jail to a maximum of 6 months in jail, a fine up to $1,000 and court costs. The active sentence may be suspended if the defendant serves a term of 72 hours in jail as a condition of probation or completes at least 72 hours of community service. If probation is imposed, the defendant will be required to complete a substance abuse assessment and complete the recommended treatment or education and comply with any other condition of probation the judge should impose.

Level 2 DWI Punishment:

A Level 2 DWI sentence is imposed if there are no minor children (under 18) in the vehicle and grossly aggravating factors present and the aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors.

An offender can generally be sentenced to a minimum of 7 days in jail to a maximum of 12 months in jail, a fine up to $2,000 and court costs. The active sentence may be suspended only if the defendant serves a minimum term of 7 days of imprisonment as a condition of probation or if the individual is ordered to abstain from consuming alcohol for at least 90 consecutive days, as verified by a continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) system. Up to 60 days of pretrial credit may be granted against the 90-day requirement, for voluntarily alcohol monitoring preformed prior to entry of the judgment.

IF the defendant is subject to Level 2 DWI punishment as a result of a prior DWI conviction or driving on a revoked license as result of a prior DWI conviction, AND the conviction for a prior offense of impaired driving occurred within 5 years before the date of offense of which the defendant is being sentenced and the judge suspends all active terms of imprisonment and imposes abstention from alcohol as verified by a CAM system, then the judge MUST also impose as an additional condition of special probation that the defendant must complete 240 hours of community service.

IF probation is imposed, the probation will include the requirement that the defendant submit to a substance abuse assessment and comply with recommended treatment or education. Probation may also include a requirement of abstaining from alcohol, monitored by a CAM system, for anywhere between a minimum of 30 days up to the maximum of the term of probation, along with any other conditions of probation the judge should choose to impose.

Level 1 DWI Punishment:

A Level 1 DWI sentence is imposed if either the defendant was accompanied by a minor child (under 18) at the time of the offense, or any 2 of the grossly aggravating factors are present.

An offender can generally be sentenced to a minimum of 30 days in jail to a maximum of 24 months in jail, a fine up to $4,000 and court costs. The active sentence may be suspended only if the defendant serves a minimum term of 30 days of imprisonment as a condition of probation.

However, a judge may reduce the minimum term of imprisonment required to a term of not less than 10 days if a condition of special probation is imposed to require that the individual abstain from consuming alcohol for at least 120 consecutive days, as verified by a continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) system. Up to 60 days of pretrial credit may be granted against the 120-day requirement, for voluntarily alcohol monitoring preformed prior to entry of the judgment.

If probation is imposed, the probation will include the requirement that the defendant submit to a substance abuse assessment and comply with recommended treatment or education. Probation may also include a requirement of abstaining from alcohol, monitored by a CAM system, for anywhere between a minimum of 30 days up to the maximum of the term of probation, along with any other conditions of probation the judge should choose to impose.

Aggravated Level 1 (A1) DWI Punishment:

An Aggravated Level 1 (A1) DWI sentence is imposed if 3 or more grossly aggravating factors are present.

An offender can generally be sentenced to a minimum of 12 months in jail to a maximum of 36 months with no eligibility for parole, a fine up to $10,000 and court costs. The active sentence may be suspended if the defendant serves a term of at least 120 in jail as a special condition of probation.

If probation is imposed, it must include the condition that the defendant abstain from alcohol for at least 120 days and undergo a substance abuse assessment and comply with any related treatment or education.

Mitigating Factors Aggravating Factors Grossly Aggravating Factors
Slight impairment of the defendant’s faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and a BAC that did not exceed 0.09 at any relevant time after driving. Gross Impairment A prior conviction for an offense involving impaired driving if:
(note: each prior conviction is a separate grossly aggravating factor)
Slight impairment of the defendant’s faculties, resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analysis having been available to the defendant. BAC of 0.15 or more The conviction occurred within 7 years after the date of offense for which the defendant is being sentenced; or
Driving at the time of the offense was safe and lawful except for the impairment. Reckless or Dangerous Driving The conviction occurs after the date of offense for which the defendant is presently being sentenced, but prior to or contemporaneously with the present sentencing; or
A safe driving record, with the defendant having no convictions for any motor vehicle offense for which at least 4 points are assigned under N.C.G.S. 20-16 or for which the person’s license is subject to revocation within 5 years of the date of offense for which the defendant is being sentenced. Negligent Driving that Led to a Reportable Accident The conviction occurred in District Court; the case was appealed to Superior Court; the appeal has not been withdrawn, or the case has been remanded back to District Court; and a new sentencing hearing has not been held pursuant to N.C.G.S. §20-38.7.
Impairment of the defendant’s faculties caused primarily by a lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition, and the amount of the drug taken was within the prescribed dosage. Driving While License Revoked Driving by the defendant at the time of the offense while his/her license was revoked for impaired driving.
The defendant’s voluntary submission to a mental facility for assessment after he/she was charged with the impaired driving offense for which he/she is being sentenced, and, if recommended by the facility, has voluntarily participated in the recommended treatment. 2 or more prior convictions of a motor vehicle offense not involving impaired driving for which at least 3 points are assigned under N.C.G.S. 20-16 or for which the convicted person’s license is subject to revocation, if the convictions occur within 5 years of the date of offense for which the defendant is being sentenced, or 1 or more prior convictions of an offense involving impaired driving that occurred more than 7 years before the date of offense for which the defendant is being sentenced. Serious injury to another person caused by the defendant’s impaired driving at the time of the offense.
Completion of a substance abuse assessment, compliance with its recommendations, and simultaneously maintaining 60 days f continuance abstinence from alcohol consumption, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring system. Conviction under N.C.G.S. §20-141.5 of speeding by the defendant while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension. Driving by the defendant while (i) a child under the age of 18 years, (ii) a person with a mental development of a child under the age of 18 years, or (iii) a person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle was in the vehicle at the time of the offense.
Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense. Conviction under N.C.G.S. §20-141 of speeding by the defendant by at least 30 mph 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.