So you've been charged with a DWI. You wake up the morning after and your life is suddenly different. More than likely, your car has been towed or left in a vacant lot near the scene of your arrest. You look in your wallet, suddenly remembering that your license was confiscated by law enforcement. You wouldn't be allowed to drive even if you had your car! The details of the evening come back to you in a rush of embarrassment and anxiety. Now what?
Within 11 days after your arrest there are opportunities to restore your driving privileges on a limited basis. Your attorney should recommend a reputable substance abuse counseling center so that you can get an assessment. You will meet with a counselor for about an hour, and the cost is usually $100. The assessor may recommend alcohol education classes. You should enroll in these classes right away. On the 11th day after your arrest, you may be eligible for a limited privilege to drive, which will last for 20 days. On day 30 after your arrest, the court will return your license upon payment of a civil restoration fee.
I'M BACK ON THE ROAD: WHAT'S NEXT?
Your first court date will be about a month after your arrest. The first court setting provides an opportunity for your attorney to speak with the assistant district attorney (ADA) and the law enforcement officer that investigated your case. In DWI cases, law enforcement officers fill out a driving while impaired report (DWIR) which separates their investigation into three phases; vehicle in motion, interaction with the suspect, and results of field sobriety testing. At this point, your attorney should begin collecting evidence necessary for your defense.
WHEN WILL THIS BE OVER?
DWI cases have an average life span of 8 months in District Court. You can anticipate returning to court every other month. If you want to contest your charges, you will continue to return to court until your case goes to trial. Remember - you remain cloaked in a presumption of innocence and your privilege to drive remains intact throughout the process.
THE DAY OF MY TRIAL IS HERE: WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Prior to your last court date, your attorney should have met with you several times to discuss your case and agree on a strategy. Blowing above the legal limit does not mean you should plead guilty. There are dozens of things that can happen on the night of your arrest that will provide an opportunity for your attorney to litigate and win your case. There is no jury selection in District Court. The judge will decide your case. The ADA will call their case and law enforcement officers will testify. Your attorney will have a chance to cross-examine, and then decide whether or not to call witnesses on your behalf.
WHAT IF I'M FOUND GUILTY?
Being convicted of a DWI in North Carolina could result in a jail sentence. A first time offender however, often receives unsupervised probation. It's important to talk to your attorney about your potential sentence. While DWI is a misdemeanor charge, it is governed under a different sentencing structure than all other misdemeanor charges. The right attorney will have explained the law to you and have you looking toward getting your privilege to drive restored and getting you the best possible outcome in court.
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