Common DWI/DUI Questions Answered

Your Common North Carolina DUI/DWI Law Questions Answered
By Knox Law Center in Charlotte, NC

In North Carolina, the most commonly prosecuted alcohol-related crimes are related to Driving While Impaired (DWI) as well as driving under the influence.

North Carolina has some of the more strict laws regarding driving while intoxicating in the U.S. Below, we answer some of the more common questions related to DWIs in Mecklenburg County as well as North Carolina state laws.

What is a DWI charge?

A DWI charge is considered criminal conduct in NC and a charge can be brought against you if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over 0.08% , which is the most common way NC determines whether you’re legally impaired.

For citizens who hold a Commercial drivers license (CDL), the legal BAC limit is 0.04%. 

Juveniles under the age of 21 cannot have ANY alcohol in their system. Possession of alcohol by a minor is also prohibited. For anyone who has had a prior DWI conviction, the limit is 0.04%* and that is also subject to conditions.

Can I get a DWI in any vehicle?

DWI’s apply to any motorized vehicle. North Carolina law defines a “vehicle” as “…every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon fixed rails or tracks…”. The statute goes on to specifically include bicycles as vehicles, and excludes assisted mobility devices (powered wheelchairs).

This means you can potentially get a DWI charge in any motorized vehicle, including golf carts, boats, trucks, go-karts, and even lawn mowers. Interestingly, this does not include horses, mules or other animals, however, there are other statues that may apply here, so riding an animal is not a fool-proof way to avoid a DWI in North Carolina.

What are the penalties for a DWI?

With a DWI arrest comes significant penalties in NC, including both administrative and criminal penalties.

Administrative Penalties for a DWI in NC

Administrative penalties start with simply being pulled over for a DWI. For instance, if you refuse a breath-test request from an officer, expect your license to be revoked for a minimum of 30 days while you have your DMV hearing.

If you refused a chemical test, such as a blood test, expect harsher civil penalties. If you fail the blood test, you will have your license suspended for up to 1 year on your first offense. 2nd offenders have license suspensions for up to 4 years and 3rd offenders may have their license suspended permanently.

Criminal Penalties for a DWI in NC

For people 21+ years or older, DWI penalties are based on a “level,” and the judge will determine mitigating factors that create your level. These factors may include your prescription medications, your driving record, your BAC levels and your behavior regarding the DWI charge.

What Are the North Carolina DWI Levels?

NC has 5 levels of their sentencing guidelines. The judge will determine on a case-by-case basis what level each individual should be sentenced at.

Level 5 – The lowest level

  • Your license will be immediately suspended and you’ll have the possibility to apply for limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Between 24 hours and 60 days in jail. Your judge may also allow you to serve a portion of your jail time as community service.
  • There may be up to a $200 fine.
  • You may have to enroll in a substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 4

  • Level 4 includes an immediate suspension of your license for 30 days, with limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Between 48 hours and 120 days in jail or 48 hours of imprisonment or 48 hours of community service, based on the judge.
  • You may have to enroll in a substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 3

  • Your license will be immediately suspended and you’ll have the possibility to apply for limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Between 72 hours and 6 months in jail or 72 hours of imprisonment or 72 hours of community service as part of probation.
  • There may be up to a $1000 fine.
  • You may have to enroll in a substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 2

  • Your license will be immediately suspended and you’ll have the possibility to apply for limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Between 7 days and 12 months in jail or the judge may suspend your sentence to 90 days of abstaining from alcohol.
  • There may be up to a $2,000 fine.
  • You may have to enroll in a substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 1

  • Your license will be immediately suspended and you’ll have the possibility to apply for limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Between 30 days and 24 months in jail. The judge may give you 120 days for probation cases involving alcohol monitoring.
  • There may be up to a $4,000 fine.
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

There are also ‘Aggravating factors’ that may increase the penalties for each level.

You can also expect some other penalties such as a substance abuse assessment and an ignition interlock device in order to regain your driving privileges.

You might also be facing other criminal charges in relation to a DWI, such as if you hit another vehicle or pedestrian while under the influence. Also, after the criminal charges are settled, you may have additional civil lawsuits to contend with.


The attorneys at Knox Law Center have been providing effective DWI criminal defense services for decades in Mecklenburg county and Charlotte, NC. Our attorneys can help navigate the confusing and expensive process of clearing a DWI charge from your name, reinstating your driving privileges and generally putting the criminal charges behind you. Give our Charlotte DWI lawyers a call today to learn more about your options.

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Our lawyers serve clients in eastern and central North Carolina (NC), including Charlotte, Cornelius, Denver, Gastonia, Concord, Kannapolis, Salisbury, Matthews, Monroe, Pineville, Mooresville, Lincolnton, Mecklenburg County, Lincoln County, Cabarrus County, Gaston County and Rowan County.

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