It is a bit misleading to think of DWI sentencing in North Carolina in terms of a DWI first offense or being a repeat offender. North Carolina uses a unique sentencing system for punishing driving while impaired convictions that is different that what is used for any other type of crime. So while it is generally true that a person could expect a lesser punishment for a DWI first offense in North Carolina, this is not certain.
North Carolina uses a punishment system based on six levels of possible punishment. Within each level is a range of punishments that the court can impose. So if a person is convicted of DWI, the first determination made by the court is what level to apply. The law has a list of sentencing factors that might be present in a case and must be weighed. There are “mitigating factors” that can reduce punishment, “aggravating factors” that can make it worse, and “grossly aggravating factors” that can make it much worse. “Level 5” is the least serious level of punishment, while “aggravated level 1” is the most serious.
In another post we explored these various factors in more detail, but many of these relate to have a bad prior driving history or prior DWI convictions. Most first offense DWI convictions are sentenced at the less serious end of the scale and receive level 5, 4 or 3 punishments.
Because this system is a bit more complex than in other jurisdictions, it can be helpful to have a good DWI lawyer who not only works to avoid a DWI conviction, but also know how to mitigate the punishment if it cannot be avoided. At Welch and Avery our DWI lawyers have handled literally hundreds of DWI defenses. We conduct a thorough investigation in order to identify and argue as many mitigating factors as possible. Prosecutors can be very aggressive in trying to assert aggravating factors that may not exist or be appropriate for your case, and we vigorously oppose these efforts to increase your punishment. If you have been charged with a DWI first offense or if you have been convicted of multiple driving while impaired charges, contact our office to discuss your legal options.
What Can I Expect for a DWI First Offense?
The sentencing structure for driving while impaired is divided into six levels. For a DWI first offense, you may be sentenced under the least severe level; however, if aggravating or grossly aggravating factors are involved, the judge will use one of the more severe levels for sentencing. Below is summary of the sentencing levels used by judges in DWI convictions. In each case, the defendant will be required to pay the court costs (approximately $200) plus a special DWI fee of $100, plus one of the following:
- Level Five DWI Sentencing – A fine of up to $200 and jail time of 24 hours to 60 days. Jail time may be suspended but the person must serve at least 24 hours in jail as a condition of special probation and/or perform 24 hours of community service. If probation is imposed, it will include a requirement for a substance abuse assessment with relevant treatment and/or education.
- Level Four DWI Sentencing – A fine of up to $500 and jail time of 48 hours to 120 days. Jail time may be suspended but the person must serve at least 48 hours in jail as a condition of special probation and/or perform 48 hours of community service. If probation is imposed, it will include a requirement for a substance abuse assessment with relevant treatment and/or education.
- Level Three DWI Sentencing – A fine of up to $1,000 and jail time of 72 hours to 6 months. Jail time may be suspended but the person must serve at least 72 hours in jail as a condition of special probation and/or perform 72 hours of community service. If probation is imposed, it will include a requirement for a substance abuse assessment with relevant treatment and/or education.
- Level Two DWI Sentencing – A fine of up to $2,000 and jail time of 7 days to 12 months. Imprisonment may be suspended only under very strict circumstances with additional penalties.
- Level One DWI Sentencing – A fine of up to $4,000 and jail time of 30 days to 24 months. Imprisonment may be suspended only under very strict circumstances with additional penalties, and the defendant must serve at least 30 days in jail as a condition of probation.
- Aggravated Level One DWI Punishment – Fine of up to $10,000 with jail time of 12 months to 36 months. Imprisonment may be suspended under very rare circumstances, but the defendant must serve a minimum of 120 days in jail as a condition of probation.
DWI is a misdemeanor in North Carolina. The sentencing levels described above apply to all DWI convictions. There is a a separate crime of Habitual DWI which is a felony and has a different system for punishments. We will discuss issues related to habitual DWI in another post.
Contact an Experienced Jacksonville DWI Attorney
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When you have legal problems, you need an experienced legal professional in your corner. We represent clients throughout Duplin County, Onslow County and the surrounding communities. Call our office at (910) 347-0161 or contact us online today for a free case evaluation.
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