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North Carolina DWI/DUI | Sentencing Structure

Sentencing Factors
When sentencing someone convicted of DWI, the Judge will weigh three sets of factors: Mitigating Factors, Aggravating Factors, and Grossly Aggravating Factors. The number of each of these factors will determine at what level the Judge will sentence the Defendant.

Mitigating Factors

These are factors that work in the Defendant’s favor. The Judge can use these to reduce the sentencing level of the Defendant, so long as there are no Grossly Aggravating Factors.

Mitigating Factors include: statutorily safe driving record for the past five years (meaning no driving offenses that at least 4 points were assigned), voluntary submission to a DWI-alcohol assessment and agree to participate in any recommended treatment, slight impairment (.09 or less), safe and lawful driving at the time of the DWI offense, impairment by a lawfully prescribed drug(s) within the prescribed dosage, or any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.

Aggravating Factors

These are factors that work against the Defendant’s favor. Though not as serious as Grossly Aggravating Factors, they still can result in a higher sentencing level, depending on the Mitigating Factors.

Aggravating Factors include: two or more convictions of a driving offense for which at least 3 points were assessed within the five years preceding the DWI offense, especially reckless or dangerous driving, conviction of a DWI more than 7 years before the current DWI offense, conviction of passing a stopped school bus, conviction of speeding to elude apprehension, conviction of speeding at least 30 miles over the legal limit, gross impairment (.16 or more), negligent driving leading to a reportable accident, or any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

Grossly Aggravating Factors

These factors are severe strikes against the Defendant. Having Grossly Aggravating Factors will result in being sentenced at a Level 2, Level 1, or Aggravated Level 1.

Grossly Aggravating Factors include: prior conviction of Driving While License Revoked when the revocation was for an impaired driving offense, serious injury to another caused by the Defendant’s impaired driving, prior DWI within the 7 years preceding the current DWI offense, and having a child under the age of 18 in the vehicle at the time of the DWI offense (if the offense occurred on or after December 1, 2011).  This sentencing factor will automatically result in a Level 1 being imposed.

The Six Levels of Sentencing for DWI

Level 5 (least severe)

Applies when no grossly aggravating factors are present, and any mitigating factors substantially outweigh any aggravating factors.

Sentence: Fine up to $200, possible imprisonment between 1 and 60 days.  If the Judge suspends the sentence, they must impose either:

  1. Imprisonment for 24 hours
  2. 24 hours of community service (to be completed within a time limit set by the Judge), or
  3. Any combination of these.

Level 4

Applies when no grossly aggravating factors are present, and any mitigating factors are balanced by any aggravating factors.

Sentence: Fine up to $500, possible imprisonment between 2 and 120 days.  If the Judge suspends the sentence, they must impose either:

  1. Imprisonment for 48 hours
  2. 48 hours of community service (to be completed within a time limit set by the Judge), or
  3. Any combination of these.

Level 3

Applies when no grossly aggravating factors are present, and any aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors.

Sentence: Fine up to $1000, possible imprisonment between 3 days and 6 months.  If the Judge suspends the sentence, they must impose either:

  1. Imprisonment for 72 hours
  2. 72 hours of community service (to be completed within a time limit set by the Judge), or
  3. Any combination of these.

Level 2

Applies when only one grossly aggravating factor is present (regardless of any mitigating and aggravating factors).

Sentence: Fine up to $2,000, imprisonment between 7 days and 12 months.  If the Judge suspends the sentence, they must impose an active sentence of imprisonment for at least 7 days.

Level 1

Applies when two grossly aggravating factors are present (regardless of any mitigating and aggravating factors). Also applies to DWI offenses that occur on or after December 1, 2011 in which a child under the age of 18 is in the vehicle at the time of the offense.  Sentence: Fine up to $4,000, imprisonment between 30 days and 24 months.  If the Judge suspends the sentence, they must impose an active sentence of imprisonment for at least 30 days.

Aggravated Level 1

Applies when three or more grossly aggravating factors are present (regardless of any mitigating and aggravating factors).

Sentence: Fine up to $10,000, imprisonment between 12 months and 36 months. If the Judge suspends the sentence, they must impose imprisonment of at least 120 days.

Regardless of which level the Defendant is sentenced to, he/she will also be sentenced to a mandatory 1-year suspension of their driver’s license, they must submit to a Substance Abuse Assessment and complete all recommended treatment, and could possible be required to have an Interlock Device (breathalyzer wired to the vehicles ignition) installed on the Defendant’s vehicle depending on their blood/alcohol level.

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