North Carolina DWI Laws and Penalties [2024 Updated]

A DWI (Driving While Impaired) is also sometimes referred to as a DUI (Driving Under the Influence). Each state has its own laws and penalties for DWIs. In North Carolina, penalties are determined based on a variety of factors. When someone is charged, a Hickory, North Carolina DWI lawyer can help them understand the law and the penalties they may face.

How Does North Carolina Define a DWI?

In North Carolina, a person can be charged with a DWI if they operate a vehicle on any highway or public space under the following stipulations:

  • They are under the influence of any substance that impairs their abilities.
  • They have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of at least 0.08%.
  • For commercial vehicles, their BAC would have to be at least 0.04%.
  • Their system has metabolized a substance listed in Schedule 1 of the state’s controlled substances chart, such as opiates.

North Carolina laws have evolved to charge individuals with a DWI if they are in physical control of a vehicle. This means that, depending on the circumstances, a person can be charged with a DWI, even if the vehicle is not in motion. A lawyer can help you understand these special circumstances.

What Are the Penalties for a DWI in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, the amount of offenses a person has against them greatly influences the penalties they will receive. Offenses are placed in levels, with 5 being the lowest and 1 being the highest. North Carolina also has implied consent laws, which means that all drivers who refuse an impairment test from an officer face a 30-day minimum revocation of their driving privileges. An additional year will be added if the offender either denies or loses a hearing.

Under most circumstances, a DWI charge is a misdemeanor. The penalties will revolve around the details of the incident and whether you have had previous convictions. There are administrative penalties and criminal penalties. Generally, administrative penalties refer to the suspension or revocation of a person’s license, and criminal penalties refer to jail time and fines.

Offenses come with a minimum and maximum jail time and fines. However, jail time can be suspended by the court. Sometimes, a judge may impose a probation sentence. Probation often includes jail time, community service, and treatment in a drug and alcohol program.

General penalties for each offense are:

  • First Offense: If someone has not had a DWI in the last seven years, it is legally considered their first offense. For a typical first offense, a person can expect to pay up to $200 and spend up to 60 days in jail.
  • Second Offense: A second offense occurs when someone has had one prior DWI offense in the last seven years. If the second offense is within three years of the first offense, a person’s driver’s license will be revoked for four years.A limited driving privilege may be petitioned to the court in certain circumstances, where the driver would only be allowed to drive during certain times and certain instances, like driving to and from work.In addition, the driver will be required to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in their car, where they will have to breathe into the machine to test their alcohol level before the car will start. This device will be installed and maintained at the expense of the driver. Offenders will face jail time of between 7 days and one year, plus up to $2,000 in fines.
  • Third Offense: A third offense is charged when someone has had two prior DWI offenses in the last seven years. At this level, a person’s license is permanently suspended. The offender can petition for reinstatement after five years. It is also likely that they will have an IID installed in their vehicle. In serious cases, their vehicle may be seized, and they can be charged with a felony. Jail time ranges between 30 days and two years, and they may be fined up to $4,000.
  • Underage Offenses: Underage offenders can face up to 30 days of community service. Their license can be suspended until they are 21, and they face fines of up to $1,000. They may also be required to complete treatment programs.


Q: What BAC Level Can Lead to DWI Charges in North Carolina?

A: To be charged with a DWI in North Carolina, a person’s blood alcohol level must be 0.08% or higher. For those driving commercial vehicles, their BAC must be 0.04% or higher. A commercial vehicle is any vehicle used to transport people or goods, such as a mail van or utility truck.

Q: Is North Carolina Strict on DUI?

A: When compared to other states, North Carolina has some of the strictest laws regarding DUI. The state is also quite unique with its “level” system, which is not employed by other states in this manner. With the level system, penalties are given based on which level the offense falls under. Level 5 is the lowest, and Level 1 is the highest. How many offenses a person has and the circumstances surrounding the DWI all contribute to the level ranking of this offense.

Q: How Likely Is Jail Time for a First-Time DUI in North Carolina?

A: Jail time for first-time DUIs in North Carolina depends on the circumstances surrounding it. If they are severe (such as property damage or the death of another person), jail time is more likely. However, most first-time offenders do not have these grievances, so jail time is less likely. Typically, an offender can expect to spend between 24 hours and 60 days in jail. Jail time could be avoided through community service or a suspension of the sentence by the court.

Q: Can a DWI Be Reduced in NC?

A: While some states offer the option to reduce a DWI sentence to a less severe charge, like reckless driving, North Carolina does not offer this option. There is no way to reduce the charge. In addition, if you are convicted, there are no options to remove the DWI from your record.

Contact Cody Law Firm

If you have been charged with a DWI, it is important to have an experienced DWI attorney from the Cody Law Firm by your side. This can help you avoid extensive penalties while understanding your rights and requirements. Contact us today to speak with our firm about your case.

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