Getting pulled over 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.
Raleigh DWI Defense Frequently Asked Questions
- What does it mean to be driving while impaired?
- What is considered an impairing substance?
- How much alcohol must I consume to be charged with DWI?
- Does the law provide different requirements for persons under 21?
- Can an officer just pull me over for no reason?
- What is a field sobriety test?
- Must I submit to a field sobriety test?
- What factors does a judge consider when determining the appropriate sentence in a DWI case?
- What are the penalties or consequences an individual convicted of DWI may face?
- If charged with DWI, can I face other 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.
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.
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
- Food consumed before and/or during the consumption of alcohol
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.
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:
- Rolling through Stop Signs
- Weaving in and out of traffic
- Failure to maintain control
- Driving significantly under the speed limit
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Jail Time
- Community Service
- Driver’s License Suspension or Revocation
- Required Abstinence from Alcohol
- Ignition Interlock Device
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
Speak to a 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.