2024 North Carolina DWI Laws and Penalties — All You Need to Know

Silva, Kiernan & Associates, Pllc

Driving under the influence is a crime in North Carolina. While other states may differentiate between a DWI and DUI, there is no difference between driving while intoxicated and driving under the influence in the Tarheel State. Jail time, fines, and suspended driving privileges are common penalties for those found guilty of this offense. Anyone who takes to the roads in our state should understand the basics of North Carolina DWI laws and penalties.

If you do have the misfortune of being pulled over for this criminal offense, the law firm of Silva, Kiernan & Associates, PLLC, will fight to protect your rights. By quickly seeking legal counsel, you may qualify for the restoration of limited driving privileges while your case plays out.

How Are DWIs Classified in North Carolina?

North Carolina courts classify DWIs/DUIs into five categories. First-time offenders are generally charged with a Level V offense unless serious aggravating factors are involved. Repeat offenders could be charged with a Level II or Level I criminal charge that could lead to a potential sentence of several months in jail.

  • Level V: This lower-level charge comes with a max penalty of $200 and a jail sentence of 24 hours to 60 days. Jail sentences can be suspended if the defendant qualifies and completes community service or other court-ordered requirements.
  • Level IV: A slightly more serious Level IV DUI can result in a maximum fine of $500 and up to 120 days in jail. The minimum time anyone convicted of this offense has to serve is 48 hours, but a judge can suspend that minimum if certain requirements are met.
  • Level III: Maximum fines can be up to $1,000 for anyone convicted of a Level III DUI in North Carolina. Jail time ranges from 72 hours to six months. The judge has the discretion to suspend jail time if the defendant qualifies for community service or treatment services.
  • Level II and I: Repeat offenders or any driver arrested after committing aggravated offenses can be charged with a Level I or Level II DUI. The judge cannot waive the minimum jail time for this sentence, meaning a Level I offender who is found guilty will have to serve at least 30 days in jail. The maximum penalty for a Level I DUI is two years of jail time.

The courts may impose harsh sentences if aggravating offenses are involved. These could include excessively high BAC levels, evading arrest, or striking a pedestrian, among other possible aggravating factors. Conversely, the courts may view a clear criminal history and low BAC as reasons for a lighter charge or sentence.

What Can My Defense Attorney Argue on My Behalf?

When preparing your defense, your defense attorney will listen to your story and investigate the facts of the case. This could include an examination of police records tied to your arrest. Police departments cannot violate your constitutional rights when pulling you over and detaining you. If any evidence was collected unlawfully, it will not be admissible in court.

The attorneys at Silva, Kiernan & Associates, PLLC, are well-versed in Fifth Amendment protections and case law that supports those rights. The equipment that was used to analyze your BAC will be scrutinized to see when it was last calibrated. During the plea-bargaining process, your lawyer will bring up mitigating circumstances and evidence that may convince prosecutors to reduce the charges you are facing or to lower the potential penalty.

If the facts support your innocence, our lawyers have experience taking cases to trial, where a judge or jury will ultimately decide whether you committed the crime that you are convicted of.


Q: Can My Driving Rights Be Restored?

A: Yes, in certain circumstances, your driving privileges can be restored after you are arrested for a DWI. This is why it is important to hire legal counsel quickly. A judge may allow you to have limited driving rights restored so you can drive to and from work. This is one of the first matters your defense attorney will take up.

Q: What Happens if My Arrest Violated My Constitutional Rights?

A: If law enforcement violated your constitutional rights during your arrest or detainment, that could be grounds for having the entire case thrown out. Tell your defense attorney about that incident. They will work to have the matter brought before the court. Even if prosecutors do not immediately drop your charges, violations of your rights can bolster your case when the matter comes before a judge or jury.

Q: Is DUI the Same Thing as DWI in North Carolina?

A: North Carolina law recognizes driving while intoxicated. This means that the driver is believed to have been under the influence of an intoxicating substance at the time of their arrest. Often, this is alcohol, but any drug could be the cause of intoxication. If you hear the term DUI used, it effectively means the same thing as DWI.

Q: Do First-time Offenders Get a Less Severe Punishment?

A: As with most criminal charges, defendants who have little to no criminal records are generally given more lenient penalties if convicted. As part of the plea-bargaining process, your lawyer may raise issues that could include your criminal record as part of an effort to reduce your charges. Multiple DUI offenders are given harsher penalties during sentencing.

Q: How Do I Find a Quality Defense Attorney?

A: You find a quality DWI defense attorney by researching how long the attorney has practiced the area of law that you need help with. Not all attorneys practice criminal defense, and not all criminal defense lawyers have experience defending clients who are facing a DUI charge. During the consultation, describe your case and see what legal strategy they recommend. If you are not satisfied with their analysis, meet with another attorney.

Schedule Your North Carolina DWI Consultation Today

A DWI conviction on your record could lead to high insurance premiums and difficulty finding a new job. If you were recently arrested for driving under the influence in Onslow County, don’t give up. Your DWI lawyer in North Carolina will investigate the facts of your case and work to have your penalties reduced. Contact our office at the earliest opportunity. Each passing day can lead to missed opportunities to have your license returned to you.