Understanding Structured Sentencing for Impaired Driving Cases in NC
This guide is designed to explain the structured sentencing guidelines in NC for drunk driving cases.
IntroductionHow does Structured Sentencing for Drunk Driving Work in NC ? In North Carolina, there is a unique sentencing structure for Drunk Driving cases. If a person pleads guilty or is found guilty by the Court for impaired driving, the court will look to a series of factors to determine the appropriate sentencing level.
Sentencing levels range from Level A1 to Level 5, with each level prescribing its own sentencing standards. The sentence for a Level A1 is the most sever, while a Level 5 is the least.
The Court will look at specific "factors" to determine which level of sentencing is appropriate.
Grossly Aggravating FactorsFirst, the court will look for the presence of any Grossly Aggravating Factors (GAF). If there are GAF's found, the Court must impose a sentence at Level A1, 1 or Level 2.
Grossly Aggravating Factors include events or situations where the impaired driving is more dangerous, including:
- A prior conviction for an offense involving impaired driving occurred within seven years,
- the defendants driver's license was revoked for an impaired driving offense,
- someone was seriously injured as a result of the impaired driving,
- a passenger under 18, or certain mental or physically disabled passenger
If there are 2 or more Grossly Aggravating Factors, or if a passenger was a minor or had a specific disability, the Court must impose a Level 1 sentence. If there is only 1 GAF, then the Judge must impose Level 2 sentencing.
Aggravating & Mitigating FactorsThe Judge will also look to see if there are Aggravating and Mitigating Factors.
Aggravating Factors include, but are not limited to:
- Blood Alcohol Concentration above 0.15;
- Especially reckless or dangerous driving;
- Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident;
- Driving by the defendant while his driver's license was revoked.
- Conviction for impaired driving that occurred more than seven years prior;
Mitigating Factors include:
- Slight impairment resulting solely from alcohol, and an alcohol concentration not exceed 0.09 ;
- Slight impairment resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analysis having been available;
- Safe & Lawful driving but for the impairment;
- Statutorily safe driving record;
- Obtaining a substance abuse or mental health Assessment;
- Impairment caused primarily by a lawfully prescribed medication within the prescribed dosage.
The court will then "weigh" these factors to determine a sentencing level or to impose a harsher sentence for a high level offense. If the Aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, Level 3 punishment is appropriate. If the Mitigating factors outweigh the Aggravating factors, the court will usually impose a Level 5, or lowest sentencing level punishment.
SentencingNorth Carolina General Statute 20-179 outlines the sentencing guidelines for each Level. These guidelines general consist of a range, with a proposed minimum and maximum sentence. For an A1, the maximum punishment is 3 years. For a level 5, the maximum punishment is 60 days.
However, courts will usually impose some lesser sentence than the maximum punishment. NC Law also allows for the suspension of an active sentence ( meaning no or limited jail time) and instead providing a period of supervised or unsupervised probation. Typically, active jail time can be avoided for level 3, 4 and 5; while levels 1 and 2 will require a minimum active jail sentence, (30 and 7 days respectively).
There are many other facets that go into the structured sentencing, including community service requirements, license revocations, and active jail replacement credit. Every DWI is unique, so every sentencing situation can vary wildly depending on the facts and circumstances of any particular case.
ConclusionSadly, there is no guarantee when it comes to structured sentencing. Judges are given a range, but ultimately have broad discretion in determining the sentence for an impaired driving offense.
Drunk Driving questions are best answered by speaking with an attorney who can evaluate all of the information surrounding your particular situation. Every situation is unique, but an experienced DUI / DWI attorney can help navigate the complexities of defending an impaired driving offense.