What You Need To Know About DWI In Wake County

As the world begins to open back up after the recent pandemic, there will inevitably be lots of celebration, getting out, and getting together with friends. Unfortunately, though, this may also result in a corresponding rise in DWI arrests. And while many people assume that they will never be pulled over and charged after enjoying a few drinks, a DWI conviction can happen to anyone. 

Here, we are discussing the basics of DWIs in Wake County: what they are, how they are determined, what to expect after a DWI arrest, and what penalties you may face. 

What is a DWI charge and how is it determined?

Stated colloquially, DWI is the “drunk driving” charge, that is, a criminal charge for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or other impairing substances. While many people think only of alcohol as leading to a DWI, in reality, any impairing substance can give rise to this charge – including some over-the-counter or prescription medications. 

What happens after a DWI arrest?

When you are pulled over for suspected DWI in Wake County, a law enforcement officer will likely ask you to perform a field sobriety test. He or she will watch you walk in a straight line, recite the alphabet, and complete other menial tasks to assess your level of impairment. Then, you will likely be asked to take a test to determine your BAC, or blood alcohol content. If your BAC is .08 or higher, you will be charged with DWI. If you are under 21, any amount of alcohol in your system, even if it is less than .08 percent, can lead to a DWI charge. 

Once the officer tests your BAC, you will be transported to the police department for further questioning. If you did not take a breath test on-site, you will take one at the station. At this point, you have a few options:

  • Call an attorney: You will be given a 30-minute window to delay your test so you can wait for your attorney to arrive. 
  • Refuse to take the test: You have the right to refuse, but under the North Carolina doctrine of implied consent, anyone pulled over for DWI in our State implicitly agrees to submit to chemical testing. As such, if you refuse, you will automatically face license suspension for at least one year.
  • Submit to the test: You may choose to simply take the test. If you blow a .08 or higher, your license will automatically be revoked for 30 days. If it is below .15, you may be able to apply for limited driving privileges after ten days. This will depend, though, on certain conditions of your arrest and your prior driving record.

What’s the impact of a DWI?

DWI charges carry steep penalties that can impact every aspect of your life, from your driving privileges to your finances, personal freedom, job prospects, and more.

Criminal Penalties

In North Carolina, DWIs are typically charged as a Level I, II, or III Misdemeanor, based on whether aggravating or mitigating factors are present. For instance, prior DWIs are deemed aggravating factors and will result in harsher penalties. 

Generally, DWI penalties come in four different types:

  • Jail time: North Carolina law sets mandatory minimum and maximum sentences which can range from 24 hours to two years.
  • Fines: Subsequent DWIs carry fines ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, along with potential jail time (based on the classification of the charge). 
  • Probation: Occasionally, a judge will order probation in lieu of other penalties. This may involve jail time and community service, as well as participation in a drug and alcohol evaluation program. 
  • Substance use assessment: Anyone charged with a DWI in Wake County is required to participate in an assessment program and comply with all recommended treatments. This is typically a prerequisite to the restoration of driving privileges.  

While all DWIs carry serious consequences, felony DWIs are punished most harshly. North Carolina law defines felony DWIs as habitually impaired driving and generally applies when someone is convicted of three or more DWIs within ten years. Felony DWI convictions typically carry a penalty of at least one year in prison, permanent license revocation, mandatory substance use training, and vehicle forfeiture.

Administrative Penalties 

In addition to criminal penalties, DWI convicts also face a series of administrative penalties imposed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The most common administrative penalty is license revocation. If you refuse to submit to a breath test or blow a .08 or more, you may face an automatic 30-day revocation. If you are convicted of a second offense within a three-year period, you can lose your license for four years. In many cases, you can petition the court for limited driving privileges, for instance, to commute to work. This isn’t possible for certain level offenses, for instance, felony DWI. 

Repeat offenders may be required to install an ignition interlock device, or IID, in their vehicles during a period of license suspension. This requires those charged to blow into a machine that detects BAC before their vehicles will start. 

Finally, if you are arrested for a second DWI while your license was revoked for a prior DWI, you may face immediate vehicle seizure at the time of your arrest. If you are convicted and a judge determines that you committed this offense while your license was revoked for that prior DWI, you will likely face permanent loss of your vehicle.

Ancillary Issues

Aside from criminal and administrative penalties, DWI can carry a series of other long-term consequences. For instance, if your job requires an occupational license, a DWI conviction can result in suspension or revocation of that license. This is a decision that each licensing board will make. For example, a medical board can suspend or revoke a license without a DWI conviction: even evidence of excessive alcohol use can lead to a suspension of your privileges. 

Similarly, the North Carolina State Bar can suspend or revoke a lawyer’s license for a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which includes, generally, anything that reflects adversely on a lawyer’s fitness to practice law. A DWI would fit squarely within this category. 

Other issues that can arise are deportation (if you are an immigrant), issues with obtaining child custody or visitation privileges, and a permanent conviction on your record which may affect your educational and career prospects.

Seeking Legal Help when Charged with DWI in Wake County

A DWI is too serious to handle on your own. While you should take every precaution to avoid getting into a situation that can lead to one (ask for a ride, limit your alcohol consumption, utilize rideshare services), once you wind up in legal trouble, you should never attempt to talk your way out of it. It is vital to engage an experienced Wake County DWI attorney who can advise you of your rights and options.

This article does not establish an attorney-client relationship and must not be construed as legal advice.