• Jeff Hutchins

Stay Alive. Don't drink and drive.


DWI Laws in NC

As a lawyer practicing in Criminal Law, I am able to see and deal with many people charged with a “crime”. This post is focused on drinking and driving (DWI) and what punishment people face upon being arrested and charged with this offense.


As required by the constitution, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant and probable cause to arrest. Assuming the officer was justified and the defendant enters a plea of guilty or loses at trial, what happens next?

As with any charge, the judge is required to follow guidelines. These guidelines are found under NCG S20-179

The following is a very general overview and doesn’t cover the nuances and finer points. Unlike most other criminal offenses, DWI punishments can be complicated. Hence, this Blog post is intended as a rough introduction.

The first step is determining what punishment level the defendant will be sentenced as. The prosecutor offers the alleged facts of the case, and the judge will then determine the severity and level of the DUI. The levels are 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 or A1.

These different levels carry different penalties. Normally, Levels 5-3 will require little, if any, initial jail time. With levels 2-A1, either expect to serve jail time or some extreme probation. No matter what level the judge finds the defendant to be, the law requires the sentence to include either community service or jail time. Each county varies, so be sure you consult an attorney to ensure you have an idea of your likely sentence.

How do you tell which level of defendant will be? The judge has a list of “good facts”, “bad facts” and “really bad facts”. A few examples of each:

Good Facts

  • Pulled over for a technical violation (Good driving when pulled over but a taillight is out, expired tags, tinted windows or a similar violation.)

  • Blood Alcohol Level is low

  • Good driving record

Bad Facts

  • Blood Alcohol Level is high

  • Driving license suspended when pulled over

  • Unsafe driving when pulled over

Really Bad Facts

  • Kids in car

  • DWI conviction in last 7 Years

  • Crashed and hurt someone.

These good and bad facts are assigned points. If the defendant has one or more “really bad” facts, they are facing 2,1 or A1. When the “bad” facts outnumber the “good” facts, the defendant would be considered a level 3. When “bad” facts equal “good” facts a level 3 is given. If there are more “good” facts than “bad” facts, it would be a level 4 or 5.

The following is a guideline of jail time sentencing that would be given based on the defendant’s DWI level. Again, the judge may choose to put the defendant on probation and sentence you to community service. *Rough Guidelines*

A1: One to Two Years

1: One month to two years

2: One week to one year

3: Three days to six months

4: Two days to four months

5: One day to 120 days

Overall, if you are arrested for a DWI, it is your first offense and the facts are not bad, you will likely not face jail time. The worst part is the cost and dealing with losing your license for a period of time.

This post has not addressed the DMV repercussion. At a minimum, you will lose your license for a year.

No matter what, please don’t drink and drive. A taxi or Uber is 100X if not 1000X cheaper. Plus, you are not putting your life or some other innocent person’s life at risk.


Feel free to give us a call if you have any questions or are currently dealing with a DUI.

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