Getting pulled oeiver for DWI or driving while impaired can be one of the most frightening experiences. In a matter of seconds, you feel completely at the mercy of the police officer. It is important to know your rights after being stopped for DWI or if facing DWI charges.

Attorney David A. Coolidge of the Coolidge Law Firm has provided the answers to frequently asked questions about DWI charges. He welcomes the opportunity to answer specific questions about your case. Contact the Coolidge Law Firm to receive a confidential review of your case.

(919) 239-8448

Raleigh DWI Defense Frequently Asked Questions

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DWI Charges

Under N.C.G.S. § 20-138.1, it is illegal to drive a vehicle on public streets, highways, and vehicular areas under the influence of an impairing substance, including controlled substances or alcohol.

North Carolina courts have determined vehicles are not limited to just cars or trucks. An individual can be charged with DWI if under the influence of an impairing substance while operating a stand-up scooter, tractor, bicycle or all-terrain vehicle.

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Impairing Substances

Generally, people think DWI is limited to alcohol; however, the charge includes driving under the influence of any impairing substance. In addition to alcohol, controlled substances or drugs that could impair a person’s mental or physical faculties are considered impairing substances.

It is illegal to operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, certain prescription drugs, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, or any other controlled substance.

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Amount of Alcohol Consumed

Under North Carolina law, an individual may be charged with DWI if he or she has a blood alcohol content or concentration (BAC) of 0.08 of higher. BAC is determined by a chemical test. If the chemical test shows the individual’s blood contains eight parts or more of alcohol for every 10,000 parts of blood, the BAC is 0.08 or higher.

It is impossible to precisely predict or anticipate exactly how much alcohol will cause an individual’s BAC to reach 0.08 or higher. BAC depends on various factors including, but not limited to:

  • Type of alcohol consumed
  • Duration of drinking
  • How quickly the alcohol was consumed
  • Weight
  • Metabolism
  • Gender
  • Food consumed before and/or during the consumption of alcohol

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Individuals Under the Age of 21

Generally, consumption of alcohol by a person under the age of 21 is illegal. As a result, if an individual under the age of 21 is suspected of driving a vehicle under the influence of any alcohol, he or she may be charged with Driving after Consuming under 21.  Even a BAC of 0.01 can result in someone under 21 being charged.

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Getting Pulled Over

Unless law enforcement has organized a DWI checkpoint, which may or may not be constitutional, an officer cannot pull someone over without reason.

Legally, a law enforcement officer must have “reasonable articulable suspicion” to pull an individual over. Reasonable articulable suspicion is the legal standard which requires there be articulate, objective facts that would cause a person to believe criminal activity is occurring.

There is no exhaustive list of conduct that establishes reasonable suspicion. Generally, in DWI cases the following conduct can establish reasonable suspicion:

  • Speeding
  • Rolling through Stop Signs
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
  • Failure to maintain control
  • Driving significantly under the speed limit

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Field Sobriety Test

If the officer suspects that a driver may be impaired, he will request that the driver perform one or more of the following standardized sobriety tests:

    • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus- In this test, the officer  takes an object, such as a pen, and asks the driver to follow the object with his eye. The officer is looking for a deviation or twitching of the eye, which may be caused by an impairing substance.
    • Walk and Turn- This is the most commonly recognizable test. The officer asks the driver to walk heel to toe on a straight line, hands down by their side, taking 9 steps forward, turning around and taking 9 more steps on the way back
    • One Leg Stand- The officer asks the driver to maintain his balance while holding one leg approximately six inches off the ground with both hands by his side.
    • Chemical Test- In the field, an officer may test a driver’s BAC with a portable breathalyzer machine. An officer uses this test to confirm his findings on the previous sobriety tests.

Learn more about Field Sobriety Tests here

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Field Sobriety Test Refusal

There are no criminal consequences for refusing to comply with an officer’s request to complete a field sobriety test. So, refuse the tests.  Do not do them.  The tests are designed to make you fail.  Do not take the roadside portable breath test (PBT) either. No harm will come from your refusal of this roadside test of your breath.

If the officer arrests a driver for DWI, he will be brought before a chemical analyst (usually the same arresting officer) and asked to submit to a breath test on the EC/IR II.   Unlike the field sobriety tests and roadside portable breath test (PBT), refusing submit to the breath test on the EC/IR II will result in a one year revocation of the person’s driver’s license.

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Factors Judges Consider

When determining the appropriate sentence following a DWI conviction the judge considers all mitigating factors, aggravating factors, and grossly aggravating factors in a case. The judge then weighs all these factors when determining the appropriate DWI sentencing level.

Factors that the judge considers include:

“Grossly aggravating”factors – any one (1) – Level 2 sentence; any two (2) – Level 1 sentence; any three (3) – new Aggravated Level 1:

  • prior DWI conviction within past seven (7) years;
  • a new DWI while license is suspended from a previous DWI;
  • serious bodily injury as a result of the DWI;
  • child under age 18 in vehicle at time of DWI.

“Aggravating” factors:

  • BAC level of .15 or greater;
  • reckless driving or accident;
  • driver’s license already revoked;
  • prior convictions for DWI greater than seven (7) years;
  • speeding while fleeing arrest;
  • speeding in excess of 30 MPH over posted limit;
  • passing a school bus illegally.

“Mitigating” factors:

  • only slight impairment and blood test not available;
  • statutorily safe driving record;
  • BAC level not greater than 0.09%;
  • otherwise driving lawfully at time of arrest;
  • impairment resulting from prescribed medication at proper dosage;
  • voluntary submission to mental health facility for evaluation.

Learn more about the factors the judge considers here.

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Penalties and Consequences

There are six levels of punishment for DWI. The consequences depend on the specific facts of the case including certain mitigating, aggravating, and grossly aggravating factors. A person convicted of DWI will face one or more of the following consequences:

  • Fines
  • Jail Time
  • Probation
  • Community Service
  • Driver’s License Suspension or Revocation
  • Required Abstinence from Alcohol
  • Ignition Interlock Device

Learn more about DWI penalties and consequences here.

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Just because an individual is charged with DWI does not mean he or she cannot face additional charges related to the incident. For example, if the law enforcement officer arrests an individual for DWI and finds he is in the possession of a controlled substance, the individual can also face drug possession charges.

Common related DWI charges include but are not limited to:

  • Possession of a controlled substance
  • Marijuana Possession
  • Underage Possession of Alcohol
  • Reckless Driving

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Speak to a Raleigh DWI Defense Lawyer Today!

David Coolidge of the Coolidge Law Firm is an experienced DWI defense lawyer. He has extensive trial experience defending individuals charged with DWI and other accompanying charges.

He proudly represents clients throughout North Carolina, including Raleigh, Wake Forest, Garner, Holly Springs, Morrisville, Fuquay-Varina, Cary, Apex, and the surrounding areas. Contact the Coolidge Law Firm at (919) 239-8448 or submit an online form to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

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Client Testimonials

  • 5 stars
    I can not say enough good about David Coolidge and the Law Firm! From the moment of our 1st interaction, I could tell that David TRULY cares and has a passion about the cases he takes on. I was anxious and nervous about my case from the beginning. David immediately showed his support and listened with an empathetic ear. From that moment on, I felt as though I knew I could trust him to put his whole heart into helping me with my case. He is intelligent, kind and completely nonjudgmental. He will listen to you and is so very supportive. I really felt, and still do, that he really cared about helping me. His passion for his work and in helping others shines. We VERY HAPPILY, had a GREAT outcome from the case and I could not be happier. As I told him when we left the court room that morning... “David, you have changed my life forever”. I would recommend David and this Law Firm to EVERYONE who is reading this review.
    - Brian L.
  • 5 stars
    David Coolidge is a wonderful attorney! I hired him twice for two different cases that I had which were only 2 months apart. He's very thorough and efficient. I was even able to reach him after hours through phone calls, texts, and email. Hopefully I never need his services again but if I am in a similar predicament I would most definitely hire David again.
    - Tiffany C.
  • 5 stars
    Excellent Customer Service. I had a Speeding ticket and they resolved it positively with no points on my Driver License. They represented me in Court and by midday on the Court date, they had updated me on the outcome. Very efficient service. I highly recommend them if you are in need of Legal Services.
    - Stephen O.
  • 5 stars
    I got a speeding ticket for going 17 over. They sent me a letter in the mail explaining that I could plead improper equipment and get no points on my insurance or license. They even gave me the fees straight out on the letter including court costs. They represented me and made the ticket go away.
    - David G.
  • 5 stars
    I cannot say enough about Attorney Coolidge and his staff. He’s handed several matters for me and in every instance he has exceeded my expectations. He even answered a frantic call from me on a Saturday night. I called in desperation not really expecting an answer. Mr. Coolidge delivered on all that he promised and more. I highly recommend.
    - Craig S.
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