North Carolina DUI Law

If you’ve been arrested for a DUI in the state of North Carolina, it is likely you experienced a wide range of emotions. If you’ve never been in trouble with the law before, you might have felt frightened, embarrassed, and anxious about what you would face after your arrest.

Perhaps you felt angry because you were not the least bit impaired, and felt you were unfairly targeted. You may have ultimately felt stressed about your future or concerned about how a DUI conviction would affect your job, your family, and your finances.

However, this is an important time to understand your rights under North Carolina DUI Law– and Asheville DUI Guy is here to help.

DUI and DWI Defined

You may be more familiar with the term DWI—driving while intoxicated. At one time, this was the commonly accepted term across the United States. Then people started driving while under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol, and most states changed to the term DUI, or driving under the influence.

“Influence” being either drugs (legal or illegal) or alcohol. Some states use the terms OWI (operating while intoxicated) or OUI (operating under the influence), but regardless of the acronym, the meaning is the same—your ability to control your motor vehicle was impaired.

Like most people, you may be shocked to find out that you don’t actually have to be driving in order to be charged with DUI. North Carolina, like many other states, makes it a crime not only to drive under the influence but to be in physical control of a vehicle and be under the influence.

This means that even if you are in your car sleeping off the alcohol, but the keys to the vehicle are readily accessible to you, you could be deemed to be “in control” of the vehicle and be charged with a DUI.

Therefore, driving or operating—or sometimes just sleeping behind the wheel of a motor vehicle—or a motorcycle, tractor or golf cart—can result in your being placed in the back of a police cruiser and charged with DUI.

North Carolina DUI Penalties

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DUI penalties in the state of North Carolina can be harsh. North Carolina uses a unique sentencing structure for DUI convictions. Penalties are based on the “level” of the offense. Levels are ranked by severity, with Level 5 being less severe and Level 1 being most severe.

Judges take into consideration aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the level of penalties.

The levels of penalties for a DUI/DWI in North Carolina are as follows:

Level 5

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $200 fine.
  • Between 24 hours and 60 days in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 24 hours of imprisonment or 24 hours of community service as part of probation.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 4

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $500 fine.
  • Between 48 hours and 120 days in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 48 hours of imprisonment or 48 hours of community service as part of probation.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 3

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $1,000 fine.
  • Between 72 hours and 6 months in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 72 hours of imprisonment or 72 hours of community service as part of probation.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 2

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $2,000 fine.
  • Between 7 days and 12 months in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 90 days of abstaining from alcohol, which the court will monitor.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 1

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $4,000 fine.
  • Between 30 days and 24 months in jail. (Your judge might give you 10 days under probation cases involving alcohol monitoring for 120 days.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Aggravated Level 1

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $10,000 fine.
  • Between 12 months and 36 months in jail. (Your judge might give you 120 days under probation cases involving alcohol monitoring for a minimum of 120 days.)
  • Monitored abstaining from alcohol for 4 months after prison release.
  • Substance abuse assessment.

You could face even more serious penalties if you are convicted of aggravated DUI for injuring another person while driving under the influence or if your BAC levels were 0.20 percent or higher.

Underage DUI

If you are under the age of 21, your driver’s license could be suspended or revoked for one year following your first DUI conviction, plus you are subject to many of the same penalties as those over the age of 21.

Commercial Driver DUIs

1st Conviction

Commercial vehicle drivers will be barred from driving a commercial vehicle for a year for a BAC which is 0.04 percent or higher. Additionally, if you have any amount of detectable alcohol in your blood, you will be issued an “out-of-service” order for 24 hours.

2nd Conviction

If you are convicted of a second DUI, you will be barred from driving a commercial vehicle for life, plus you will face the “normal” penalties for DUI convictions in the state of North Carolina.

License Suspension

DUI License Hearing Timeline

If you are arrested for DUI in the state of North Carolina, you have only seven days from the date of your arrest to request a license hearing. If you fail to request the hearing within that seven-day period, you could be subject to an automatic suspension of your license.

Your Automatic License Suspension (ALS) hearing is completely separate from your actual DUI criminal case, and only deals with your driver’s license. Even if you win your ALS hearing and get your driver’s license reinstated, it could only be temporary. A license suspension can still be ordered during your criminal case.

License Reinstatement Post-Revocation

After the revocation period concludes, you’ll need to navigate the process of reinstating your driver’s license. This involves a $130 reinstatement fee and proof of financial responsibility for the next three years. Those with a second DUI conviction are also required to install an ignition interlock device on all vehicles they frequently use prior to reinstatement.

Other Potential Consequences of a DUI Conviction

The consequences of a DUI conviction in North Carolina carry significant legal penalties and can influence various aspects of one’s life, though the extent varies based on specific circumstances. Here’s a refined overview:

Loss of Employment and Professional Licensing

While a DUI conviction can impact job prospects and the ability to work in certain professions, especially those involving driving or high levels of responsibility, it does not universally prevent obtaining employment or professional licenses. The impact largely depends on the specific profession’s licensing requirements and employer policies.

Loss of Firearm Rights

A DUI conviction, particularly if it’s a felony, can affect one’s ability to purchase or own a firearm. The specific consequences depend on the severity of the DUI offense and related laws.

Loss of Passport and Travel Rights

Generally, a DUI conviction, especially a misdemeanor, does not prevent someone from obtaining a passport. However, travel to certain countries may be restricted based on their entry requirements.

Loss of Student Loan Eligibility

Federal student loan eligibility is typically not directly affected by a DUI conviction unless the offense involves drug convictions that occurred while receiving federal student aid.

Increased Insurance Rates

Conviction invariably leads to increased auto insurance premiums. Individuals might be placed in a high-risk category, facing substantially higher rates or the possibility of being dropped by their insurance provider.


Each of these areas reflects the broader implications of a DUI conviction beyond immediate legal penalties, underscoring the importance of understanding the full scope of consequences and seeking knowledgeable legal counsel. Legal professionals can provide advice tailored to individual circumstances, including the nuances of North Carolina law and the specifics of the DUI charge in question.

Common DUI Defenses

Common defenses to DUI charges can be nuanced and depend heavily on the specifics of each case.

Here are some common defenses:

  1. Questioning Vehicle Control: A key defense might be that you were not driving or in actual control of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offense. This argument hinges on whether the officer can conclusively prove you were operating or intending to operate the vehicle under the influence.
  2. Challenging the Traffic Stop: It’s possible to argue that the officer lacked legal justification for the initial traffic stop. Without a valid reason for the stop, any evidence obtained during or after it may not be admissible in court.
  3. Procedural Missteps During Arrest: If the arresting officer failed to adhere to proper legal procedures, evidence collected during the stop or subsequent arrest could be challenged and potentially excluded from the case.
  4. Lack of Probable Cause: This defense asserts that the officer did not have probable cause to stop, detain, or arrest you, possibly due to perceived bias based on race or ethnicity rather than any actual signs of intoxication or erratic driving.
  5. Failure to Administer Miranda Rights: If the officer did not inform you of your Miranda rights post-arrest, particularly your right to remain silent, certain statements or evidence might be rendered inadmissible at trial.
  6. Medical Conditions or Prescription Medication: Symptoms such as bloodshot eyes or slurred speech, often attributed to intoxication, might actually result from medical conditions or prescription medications. Demonstrating this can challenge the officer’s observations of impairment.
  7. Legitimate Reasons for Poor Field Sobriety Test Performance: Poor performance on field sobriety tests can be attributed to factors unrelated to alcohol consumption, such as physical illnesses, age, nervousness, unclear instructions, or even the type of footwear you had on.
  8. Breathalyzer Calibration and Operation Issues: The accuracy of Breathalyzer results can be contested if the device was not properly calibrated or if the administering officer was not correctly trained in its use.

Each of these defenses requires careful presentation and substantiation in court, often necessitating the expertise of a skilled DUI defense attorney to navigate the complexities involved and to argue effectively on your behalf.

Additional Considerations

The Importance of Legal Counsel

Before making a decision to plead guilty to DUI charges, it’s advisable to consult with a DUI attorney. This discussion can significantly influence your decision-making process, especially if you’re considering pleading guilty.

Benefits of an Attorney in Plea Bargaining

An experienced Asheville DUI attorney can significantly alter the outcome of your case through plea bargaining. This might involve reducing the charge to reckless driving or “wet reckless,” which have less severe consequences than a full DUI conviction.

Sentence Bargaining Strategy

In addition to plea bargaining, your attorney may also engage in sentence bargaining. This involves agreeing to plead guilty only if the prosecution offers a more lenient sentence, potentially allowing you to avoid harsher penalties.

The Role of a DUI Defense Attorney

Having a seasoned North Carolina DUI defense attorney by your side throughout the legal process is invaluable. Your attorney will provide vigorous representation, ensuring that your rights are protected at every stage.

Why You Need an Experienced DUI Lawyer

In order to beat your DUI charges, you must take swift action. Hiring a highly experienced Asheville DUI attorney is the single most important action you can take during this difficult time, as there are deadlines you simply cannot afford to miss.

Remember this—the decisions you make right now will have a huge impact on your freedom, your reputation and your bank account. You may not think a DUI conviction would be that big a deal, but before you reach that (erroneous) conclusion, read on about North Carolina punishment and penalties for a DUI conviction.

Call our North Carolina DUI defense lawyer, at 828-759-5556 today or fill out the confidential contact form for more information.

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