The North Carolina DUI Guide

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 Aggravating Factors

Mitigating Factors

Grossly Aggravating Factors

Habitual DWI




Division of Motor Vehicles







Petition for Limited Driving Privilege


Order your North Carolina Driving Record


I just got arrested for a State of North Carolina DWI offense.  What happens next?


ISSUE ONE:  The North Carolina Implied Consent / Administrative License Revocation Proceeding:  Your North Carolina license (or your right to drive in North Carolina if you're not a North Carolina licensed driver) was most likely revoked for anywhere from 30 days to one year or more for failing or refusing a chemical (breath) test.  Read your paperwork carefully. 


A person whose license is revoked may request in writing a hearing to contest the validity of their revocation. The request may be made at the time of your initial appearance or within ten days of the effective date of the revocation to the clerk or a magistrate  and may specifically request that the hearing be conducted by a district court judge.  This hearing is sometimes referred to as a DMV hearing.



ISSUE TWO:  The North Carolina DWI Criminal Case:  Separate from the implied consent revocation is the criminal charge for driving while impaired (DWI).  In North Carolina, a person commits the crime of DWI if they drive a vehicle upon any highway, any street, or any public vehicular area within the state:

  • While under the influence of an impairing substance; or

  • After having consumed sufficient alcohol that he has, at any relevant time after the driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more.  The results of a chemical analysis is deemed sufficient evidence to prove a person's alcohol concentration; or

  • With any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or its metabolites in his blood or urine.

Important:  The implied consent revocation proceeding and the criminal DWI offense are completely separate from one another. 


Will my North Carolina driver license be revoked?


RELATED TO ISSUE ONE ABOVE:  Your North Carolina driver license (or your right to drive in North Carolina if you do not have a valid North Carolina license) will likely be revoked in the implied consent proceeding for failing or for refusing a chemical test for alcohol and / or drugs. 


RELATED TO ISSUE TWO ABOVE:  If you are convicted of the DWI offense, you will also lose your license (or your right to drive in North Carolina if you don't have a valid North Carolina license) for one year, for four years, or permanently.  This revocation is separate and distinct from the implied consent revocation.  Talk to your North Carolina DWI lawyer for possible revocation lengths for your situation.



Also keep in mind that your license can be suspended for a variety of reasons unrelated to a DWI arrest e.g. excessive speed, excessive points, convictions for certain other traffic crimes etc.


What happens if I get caught driving while my license is revoked?


Driving while your license is revoked (DWLR) should be avoided as it is a new crime.  If you're on probation for a DWI, driving with a revoked license will also violate your DWI probation.  Penalties for driving while license revoked include fines, jail time, and an additional license revocation of at least one year.


If you're on probation for a DWI when you are caught driving while revoked you will face a probation violation hearing on your DWI along with the new driving while revoked charge. 


I really need to drive.  Will I be able to get limited driving privileges to drive to work?


Limited driving privileges may be available to you for either an implied consent revocation or a DWI conviction based revocation.  If available, limited driving privileges allow driving for the following purposes:

  • Employment;

  • Maintenance of his household;

  • Education;

  • Court ordered treatment or assessment;

  • Community service ordered as a condition of the person's probation;

  • Emergency medical care.

Speak to your North Carolina DWI lawyer about whether you qualify and how to apply for this limited driving privileges.  The State of North Carolina does not issue limited driving privileges to operate commercial motor vehicles. 


What is the difference between a DWI, DUI, OWI, OUI, OVI etc.?


These terms are all acronyms that refer to the offense commonly known as "drunk driving."  Different states have different names for the crime.  Most states including South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee use the phrase "driving under the influence" (DUI) to refer to the charge.  Other states use the phrase operating while intoxicated (OWI); operating under the influence (OUI); and driving under the influence of an intoxicant (DUII).  Like many states, North Carolina law refers to "driving while impaired" or DWI.


What type of penalties might I face if I am convicted of an North Carolina DWI charge?


Upon conviction of an North Carolina DWI offense, a defendant can receive a variety of penalties including alcohol screening / treatment / education; jail time; fines; a substantial license revocation; and community service.  How much jail time you realistically face depends on a wide range of factors some of which are outlined below.  Only an experienced North Carolina DWI attorney can tell you the specific range of penalties you're likely to face if you're convicted of a DWI.  For a first DWI conviction, the following minimum penalties apply:


  • a one year license revocation;
  • at least a $200 fine;
  • a minimum of 24 hours jail or 24 hours of community service;
  • installation of an ignition interlock device if your BAC is 0.15 percent or greater.


Just how much jail time will I have to do if I am convicted of a DWI in North Carolina?

The amount of incarceration (jail time) received will depend on a number of factors not the least of which is your prior drunk driving history.  North Carolina law directs the sentencing judge to examine whether grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, or mitigating factors are present in your case. 

Under NC law, the following are considered grossly aggravating factors and, if present, will likely result in a more severe sentence:

  • A prior conviction for a DUI / DWI / OWI offense if:

    • The conviction occurred within the past seven years; or

    • The conviction occurs after the date of the offense for which you are presently being sentenced, but prior to or contemporaneously with the present sentencing; or

    • The conviction occurred in district court; the case was appealed to superior court; the appeal has been withdrawn, or the case has been remanded back to district court; and a new sentencing hearing has not been held.

    [Please note that each prior conviction is a separate grossly aggravating factor.]

  • You were driving on a revoked license (DWLR) from a prior DWI offense.

  • The DWI resulted in serious physical injury to another person.

  • The DWI was committed with a child under the age of 16 years in the vehicle.

The following are considered aggravating factors that can result in a stiffer sentence:

  • Gross impairment of your faculties or a BAC of 0.15 percent or more.

  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving.

  • Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.

  • Driving with a revoked license (DWLR) other than for a prior DWI offense.

  • Two or more prior convictions of motor vehicle offenses not involving impaired driving for which at least three points are assigned or for which your license is subject to revocation, if the convictions occurred within the past five years, or one or more prior convictions of an offense involving impaired driving that occurred more than seven years ago.

  • Conviction of speeding while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension.

  • Conviction of speeding by at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit.

  • Passing a stopped school bus.

  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the DWI offense.

The following are considered mitigating factors that may lighten your DWI sentence:

  • Only slight impairment of your faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and a BAC that did not exceed 0.09 percent.

  • Only slight impairment of your faculties, resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analysis having been available to you.

  • Driving that is otherwise safe and uneventful.

  • A safe driving record, with no conviction for any motor vehicle offense for which at least four points are assigned or for which your license is subject to revocation within the past five years.

  • Impairment of your 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.

  • Your voluntary entry into alcohol / drug / substance abuse treatment after arrest.

  • Proof of 60 days or more of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as shown by a continuous alcohol monitoring system.

  • Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.

Your North Carolina DWI lawyer can advise you best.


Will I be placed on probation following a NC DWI conviction?

Yes.  You will be subject to a period of probation and ordered to comply with a number of obligations including obtaining a substance abuse evaluation and treatment.  The standard conditions of probation will generally require you to:

  • Commit no criminal offense in any jurisdiction (obey all laws);

  • Remain within the jurisdiction of the court unless granted written permission to leave by the court or the probation department;

  • Report as directed by the court or the probation department and permit the officer to visit your residence;

  • Answer all reasonable inquiries by the probation department and obtain prior approval from the probation department before moving;

  • Submit at reasonable times to warrantless searches by a probation officer of your person, vehicle, and residence;

  • Not use, possess, or control any illegal drug or controlled substance unless it has been prescribed by a licensed physician;
  • Not knowingly associate with any known or previously convicted users, possessors, or sellers of any controlled substances;
  • Not knowingly be present at or frequent any place where such illegal drugs are sold, kept, or used;

  • Surrender your driver's license to the clerk of superior court, and not operate a motor vehicle for a specified period specified.


Is a DWI offense in North Carolina a crime?


Yes, a DWI in North Carolina is a criminal offense.


Is a NC DWI a misdemeanor or felony?


In North Carolina, a DWI is usually a misdemeanor crime.  However, if you have three or more DWI's in the past 10 years, you commit the felony offense of habitual impaired driving (Habitual DWI).  Conviction of a felony Habitual DWI results in at least 12 months incarceration and a permanent license revocation.


Will my defense lawyer be able to plea bargain / negotiate my North Carolina DWI charge down to another (lesser) offense?

Maybe.  Plea bargaining and charge reduction are two areas that any experienced North Carolina DWI lawyer would discuss with the prosecutor on the client's behalf.  Under North Carolina law, a prosecutor must give a detailed explanation if the prosecutor allows a voluntary dismissal, accepts a plea to a lesser included offense, or substitutes another--less serious--charge for the DWI.

Will a North Carolina DWI go on "my driving record?"

Yes.  A DWI conviction will go on your North Carolina driving record.  You cannot expunge a DWI conviction. 

I am licensed to drive in a state other than North Carolina and I was arrested for a DWI in North Carolina.  Will my driver license be revoked / suspended?

North Carolina only has the authority to revoke your right to drive in the State of North Carolina.  However, North Carolina and 44 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted an agreement known as the "Driver License Compact."  North Carolina will report a DWI conviction to the home state of the driver (assuming the home state has also adopted the Compact).  Your home state will then generally take action to suspend or revoke your license.

This also works in reverse.  If you are a North Carolina licensed driver and you are convicted of a DWI / DUI / OVI / OUI / OWI offense in another state, North Carolina will revoke your license if it learns of the conviction. 

Will I have to install an Ignition Interlock Device on my car?


An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breath alcohol measurement device that is connected to a motor vehicle ignition.  In order to start the motor vehicle, a driver must blow a breath sample into the device which then measures alcohol concentration.  If the alcohol concentration exceeds the startup set point on the interlock device, the motor vehicle will not start.


You generally will be required to install an ignition interlock device on your car if your BAC is 0.15 percent or higher or if this is your second or subsequent conviction.  Speak with your North Carolina DUI lawyer about whether this requirement applies to your situation.


What happens if I was on probation when I got arrested for my North Carolina DWI offense?

Committing a new offense while you're on probation for a previous crime creates two problems.  First, you face the new NC DWI charge.  Second, you face a probation violation hearing for failing to obey all laws (a standard condition of probation).  The most serious scenario is when you receive a new North Carolina DWI offense when you're already on probation for a previous DWI.  When this happens, its in your best interest to speak to a North Carolina lawyer as soon as possible.

I was also arrested for a hit and run charge along with my DWI.  What should I know about that charge?

Persons driving under the influence that are involved in an accident frequently fail to stop either because they're so drunk they don't realize they hit something or because they know that they are DWI and don't want to be arrested.  The crime of hit and run results.  This offense is found in NCGS § 20-166. 

Under North Carolina law, a hit and run that results in only property damage is a misdemeanor offense.  If a hit and run results in death or injury, the crime is a felony.  A felony hit and run will result in at least a one year license revocation.

A hit and run conviction can also result in possible jail time, fines, and probation.

What will a North Carolina DWI do to my insurability?

If your insurance company finds out about your DWI one of two things are likely to happen.  Either your North Carolina insurer will raise your rates or you may be cancelled or non-renewed.  North Carolina does NOT require the filing of an SR-22 for a DWI conviction like many states do.

I'm not a United States citizen.  Will a NC DWI conviction result in my removal from this country?

Probably not.  Typical, run of the mill NC DWI's (no priors; no child in car; no injuries) are not considered crimes of moral turpitude or aggravated felonies resulting in removal.  It is important to consult an experienced immigration lawyer about your situation just as you should consult with an experienced North Carolina criminal defense lawyer about your pending NC DWI charge. 

Keep two points in mind.  First, it is very important to answer honestly all questions about prior arrests / convictions on immigration and Visa applications and forms.  Lying on these forms is often considered more serious than any DWI conviction.  Second, non-citizens must take extra care not to drive on a suspended or revoked license.

Are there any concerns for mariners licensed by the United States Coast Guard who get an DWI in North Carolina?


Yes.  An applicant for a Coast Guard credential must disclose all criminal convictions on their application form.  In addition, the Regional Exam Center (REC) performs a National Driver Register check on applicants.  Once a DWI conviction is identified, the REC evaluates the applicant's reported conviction and the facts related to the offense.


Are there special concerns for licensed pilots who get a North Carolina DWI?


Yes.  The FAA has reporting requirements for certain Motor Vehicle Actions including North Carolina DWI convictions and certain implied consent revocations.  Learn more here.

I missed a North Carolina DWI court appearance.  What do I do now?

Failing to appear (FTA) for court is to be avoided.  When you miss a court appearance, bad things follow.  At a minimum, the North Carolina court typically issues a warrant for your arrest (known as a bench warrant).  Your license may be revoked as well (at least until the warrant is cleared).  Talk to your lawyer as soon as possible.  Often, your only option is to turn yourself in to the jail on the outstanding warrant.  A new court date will then be scheduled.

Can I represent myself in court on my North Carolina DWI and other criminal charge(s)?

Yes.  You have a constitutional right to represent yourself on any criminal charge no matter how serious including an North Carolina DWI charge.  Keep in mind that North Carolina DWI defense is a complex area of the law as shown by the information in this website.  If you cannot afford to hire your own attorney, you definitely should apply for court appointed counsel to represent you.  You have no right to court appointed counsel at the implied consent license proceeding.

Copyright 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 by David N Lesh.


Websites, including this one, provide general North Carolina DWI information but do not provide legal advice or create a lawyer / client relationship.  General information cannot replace legal advice specific to your offense, case, problem, or situation.  Consult qualified NC Drunk Driving attorneys for advice about any specific problem or North Carolina DWI charge that you have.  North Carolina attorneys are governed by the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct.  This website may be considered an advertisement for services under these Rules.  Information contained in this website is believed to be accurate but is not warranted or guaranteed in any way.  No lawyer associated with this website is specialized or certified in any way. 


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