If you are stopped and charged with DWI, your mind is going to be flooded with questions about what has just happened and what is going to happen as a result. Advice and suggestions from friends and family, however well-meant, might confuse you further. A DWI attorney can give you the real answers.
Many people have been in your position, and most had the same questions. Considering the questions most frequently asked of DWI attorneys, the primary concerns are about driving privileges, alcohol assessments, the court process and the consequences of a DWI conviction.
Can I go it Alone, or is a DWI Attorney Really Necessary?
You are facing a serious criminal charge, which could affect your financial future, job opportunities and even your reputation considerably. Do you want to take the risk of going through this alone?
A DWI attorney will be able to help you in various ways. These include your application for limited driving privileges, your pre-trial hearing and pre-trial motions, and with case preparation, among other things. Your attorney will also know what strategies might be the most beneficial to your case.
If your DWI case includes other charges, like possession of marijuana, or having an open alcohol container in the car, an attorney would play an even more important role in handling your case.
If my Driving Privileges are Revoked, how Long Is It Before I Can Drive Again?
Your license is automatically revoked if you are arrested for DWI in North Carolina – usually for a period of 30 days. However, if this affects your work, you can apply for limited driving privileges and be on the road again after 10 days. These limited privileges only apply between 6 am and 8 pm, but can be extended if your employer provides a letter showing you work outside these hours.
Along with the application for limited driving privileges, you will have to provide proof that you have current insurance; your 7-year driving history; and the results of an alcohol assessment.
Why should I get an Alcohol Assessment?
An alcohol assessment provides you with the necessary support for your application for limited driving privileges and can also influence sentencing should you plead guilty, or be convicted.
The court may take into account that you have undergone the usually-recommended 20-hour class, as well as any other classes suggested by the private agency which does the assessment. Alcohol assessments involve issues like how much, and how often you drink, as well as general behavior.
What are the Consequences of a Conviction?
A guilty verdict immediately results in a sentence involving a fine, community service and, possibly, jail time. There are six levels of punishment, depending on how many aggravating and mitigating factors there are. The most lenient is Level 5, which requires 24 hours of community service or 24 hours in jail, a reasonably low fine, court costs and a year without your license.
At the other end of the scale, at Aggravated Level 1, the sentence could be anything between 120 days and three years in jail, as well as a significant fine and costs. This could be imposed if there are three or more grossly aggravating factors.
Apart from the actual sentence, a DWI conviction means you are unable to drive for at least a year unless you are granted limited driving privileges. It can also have long-term effects on your future. It is likely to affect your insurance premiums negatively, as well as possibly impacting on your relationships, reputation, job opportunities and income in the future.
What is Involved in the Court Case, and How Long Will It Take?
A DWI case can take between three and six months to resolve, and sometimes a lot longer. A guilty plea at your first court appearance (about two months after you were stopped and arrested) could see it concluded immediately.
However, a guilty plea at the first appearance is likely to result in the worst possible outcome for you. Despite the stress of having the case hanging over your head for a long time, your chances of a favorable outcome can improve the longer it takes. This is for several reasons:
- It can take some time to obtain all the records and evidence in your case. Because you are not automatically entitled to know the evidence against you in a typical DWI case, your attorney will need to issue subpoenas and other requests for copies of police reports, witness statements, lab results, dash camera and body camera footage, then review those records for potential defenses to the case.
- If blood testing was involved in your case, those results often take many months to be returned to the court; depending on your case those results could be very meaningful in terms of whether there is sufficient evidence to convict.
All DWI cases start in the District Court with a judge presiding. If you are found not guilty, the case is over. It will also stop there if you accept a guilty verdict, pay the fine and costs, and otherwise comply with the court judgment. You do have the right to appeal to the Superior Court, where you will be heard by a jury. A DWI tried before a jury often results in a different outcome than one tried before a judge in District Court, so if your attorney feels that your case looks promising for an appeal it is usually worth the additional time and expense.
Are Breathalyzer Results the Only Consideration? Can they be Challenged?
Serious doubts have arisen about the reliability of breathalyzer readings but, unlike many states, North Carolina still prohibits a DWI attorney from challenging them on a scientific basis.
However, the readings can be contested if your being stopped was unlawful; the test was not properly done, or the time-lapse before taking it could have altered the reading. Other factors include your diet and some medical conditions.
What are Aggravating, Grossly Aggravating and Mitigating Factors?
These are factors that can affect the outcome of your trial.
Mitigating factors are in your favor. They include a low breathalyzer reading (under 0.09); a safe driving record and lawful driving when you were stopped; as well as cooperation with the alcohol assessment and its recommendations
The other two worsen your position.
Aggravating factors include the following, and more:
- A very high breathalyzer reading (0.16 or more).
- Driving recklessly or dangerously when you were stopped.
- Two or more convictions in the last 5 years for 3-point driving offenses, such as speeding, running through a stop sign, not having a valid driver’s license, and so on.
- Speeding in order to escape law enforcement.
- Negligent driving that resulted in an accident.
Grossly Aggravating factors will put you straight into the Level A1, 1 and 2 sentencing brackets and take any mitigating and other aggravating factors right off the table. However, it is possible your DWI attorney can arrange a deal involving a less severe conviction and sentence.
Among the factors viewed as grossly aggravating are previous convictions; driving when your license has been revoked for a DWI offense; seriously injuring someone through impaired driving; or if you have someone younger than 18 years old in the car at the time.
Finding the Real Answers
A lot rides on the questions you ask after you have been stopped and arrested for DWI. Even more relies on who you go to for answers, and whether those answers, suggestions, and plans of action are rooted in solid ground. Consulting an experienced DWI attorney will get you the most solid answers of them all.
In North Carolina, Welch and Avery will have the right DWI attorney for you, one already armed with the experience and knowledge to answer your questions and guide you every step of the way. Contact us online or call us on 910-498-8515.
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