Overview of a North Carolina Driving While Impaired (DWI) or Drunk Driving Charge
What is a DWI or Drunk Driving Charge?In North Carolina, a drunk driving or DWI charge is an accusation by the State of North Carolina that you have operated a vehicle while impaired on a public vehicular area of the state. A vehicle can be anything from a bicycle to a truck, and everything in between. Operation can be a vehicle whose motor is running, but is not in gear. And a public vehicular area or highway can include everything from a highway to a road to a public parking lot or parking garage. And impairment can be proved either by the state submitting a breathalyzer or blood test that indicates a .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) or by the state's police officer witnessing signs of impairment - weaving of the car, slurring of the words, smell of alcohol, and so forth.
When Can I Get My License Back?If this is your first DWI, and you complete the necessary steps - getting a substance abuse assessment, and submitting the proper paperwork - you can get Limited Driving Privileges 10 days after your arrest. That LDP will be valid from day 10 to day 30 after your arrest. On the 30th day after your arrest, in most cases you will get your license back.
If you didn't refuse to take a breathalyzer or blood test at the time of your arrest, you will only face one possible suspension, upon conviction. If you are convicted of the DWI, your license will be suspended at your conviction for one (1) year. During that time, you can apply for and will most likely receive Limited Driving Privileges. If your BAC was above a .15 at the time of your arrest, you will need to get an Interlock device on your car, which costs roughly $700 every six (6) months.
How Long Will My Case Take to Resolve?Generally, cases in Wake County (Raleigh) North Carolina, where I practice, can take anywhere from six (6) months to a year to resolve in District Court. If you decide to appeal your case (which is your absolute right, should you be found guilty at the District Court level) to Superior Court, you could spend an additional year or year-and-a-half waiting for your case to be resolved.
In the meantime, you are innocent of the charges and, in most cases, you will have your license back and can drive normally.
How Can I Suppress Evidence Against Me?There are a couple of key points in a DWI arrest where your rights are at stake. If the police officer violated your rights, then you may be able to "suppress" the evidence of impairment collected later. This might result in a not-guilty verdict.
For instance, in the United States and in North Carolina the police may not simply stop your car whenever they like. They must have a legal reason to stop the car. That legal reason could be in order to cite you for speeding. Or to cite you for an equipment malfunction on your car. If during that legal stop of the vehicle the police officer discovers that you may be drunk, they can conduct a further investigation.
Otherwise, the police will need to show the court that they had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that you were driving drunk. If they can show this reasonable suspicion, then they can stop your car in order to conduct a further investigation.
If the police lacked a reason to stop your car, you may win your case.
How Else Can I Suppress Evidence Against Me?Even if police had a valid reason to stop your car, they may have violated your rights in other ways. For instance, police need to have "probable cause" that you've committed the crime of DWI in order to arrest you for a DWI. If they lack "probable cause" and arrested you anyway, any evidence they collected may be suppressed.
This is one of the main reasons that a DWI case may be won: because police lacked probable cause, arrested a driver anyway, and collected evidence illegally.
These rights against an unlawful arrest are found in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
There are still other ways to defeat a DWI case. For instance, the chemical analyst may have incorrectly performed the DWI breathalyzer test. Or the chemical analyst may not have been certified as an analyst. Or the police officer may have denied your rights to have a witness at your breathalyzer test.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for a DWI?A DWI requires a skilled lawyer who understands how to defend against DWI cases. These are not easy cases to win, because of widespread prejudice against people who commit DWIs. But a skilled DWI lawyer can help you win a case.
Strictly speaking you don't need a lawyer. You can go in and plead guilty to a DWI and end up with a conviction on your record. But you probably don't know all the things to look for in a DWI case to make sure that the state has not violated your constitutional rights.
Given the severity of the DWI - it's the most severe misdemeanor in North Carolina with the possible exception of the crime of sexual battery - it's probably wise for you to at lest consult with a lawyer.
You can call me anytime - day or night - at (919) 352-9411 to talk about this or any other state or federal criminal case.