North Carolina DWI Laws

If you have been arrested for driving while impaired (DWI) in the State of North Carolina, you should immediately contact a defense attorney who focuses in this area of law. North Carolina has strict laws and penalties regarding operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (even if they are lawfully prescribed medications). This is a complex area of law, which is why you need to find an attorney who has extensive experience representing clients charged with DWI.

In 1983, North Carolina amended its Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws, stating that a person could be convicted in two ways. The first is driving while subject to an impairing substance. The second is violating the state’s Breath Alcohol Content (BrAC) or Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit of .10. If the prosecution tried to convict you of the driving while impaired charge, they were required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your physical and/or mental abilities were impaired to an appreciable extent by the use of drugs and/or alcohol while you were operating a motor vehicle. Thereafter, the North Carolina General Assembly changed the legal limit to .08, following a nationwide effort to lower the level necessary for a conviction of Driving Under the Influence/Driving While Impaired. Some states refer to offenses of impaired driving as Operating While Impaired (OWI) and Operating While Intoxicated (OUI).

Under the .08 standard, which may be proven through different testing methods including breath testing and blood sampling, the prosecution must only prove that your BAC was at or above the state’s legal limit of .08% at any relevant time after operating a motor vehicle from alcohol consumed before or during driving. “Operation” does not necessarily require driving the vehicle under recent amendments to drunk-driving laws. The State of North Carolina may prove this violation by introducing evidence of your chemical test (blood, breath or urine). Remember, under the .08 charge theory the prosecution will not have to prove that you were intoxicated or impaired, but simply that you were over the state’s legal blood alcohol content limit. There are also DWI charges involving certain lawfully prescribed medications.

It’s important to know that in addition to the criminal charge you’ll face, you could also have to answer to the North Carolina Department of Transportation Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Under their campaign, “Booze It and Lose It,” you may lose your license if there is proof that you were DWI or you willfully refused to take a breath or blood test. The Court may suspend your license for thirty (30) days if your test result is .08 or higher under North Carolina General Statute §20-16.5(e).

What’s the Difference Between DUI & DWI?

DUI stands for driving under the influence and that is the more traditional way of referring to impaired driving under the influence of alcohol. In approximately the early eighties the legislature of North Carolina changed that to be more inclusive. This means that they included more substances that can impair you in addition to alcohol such as lawfully prescribed medications and even illegal drugs as well. Driving while impaired captures alcohol, drugs, medicines, and anything that can impair your ability to drive a vehicle, where DUI applies to more specifically to alcohol.

Is a DWI a Felony?

It’s pretty common that you might not understand what a DWI or DUI is. Many clients mistakenly think that a driving while impaired conviction is a felony. They don’t necessarily understand the difference between felonies and misdemeanors. First off a regular straight forward DWI is technically considered a misdemeanor charge. It is not a felony, although it is sentenced and categorize differently in our statue books.

There is a way to be convicted of felony DWI and that is a habitual DWI. That’s where you have a series of DWI convictions over a period of time. Put simply in the most basic terms a DWI is a misdemeanor. It’s not a felony. That’s in the state of North Carolina. There are some other places, Canada for example, who consider DWI to be a felony. They won’t let you in their country. Each state is different but in North Carolina a DWI is a misdemeanor.

North Carolina Blood Alcohol Level

Recently you may have been charged with DWI in North Carolina. You were likely given either a blood or, breath, which may have shown that your blood alcohol content (BAC) was over the legal limit. Under North Carolina DWI law, you may not test over .07%, which is to say 08% is considered Driving While Impaired. Some people thing, “The state has evidence against you, so you might as well save everyone time and energy by just pleading guilty. Then you can get on with your life, right?” Wrong! There can be substantial, effective defenses to a DWI charge. Even if the prosecution has evidence against you, it may be appropriate to challenge and scrutinize it. Make no mistake, DWI is a serious criminal charge and you need an experienced attorney to defend you.

Should I Just Plead Guilty?

If you blew a .08 or higher you might be thinking, “Should I just plead guilty?” The answer is not necessarily. Don’t forget that the state of North Carolina has the burden of proof in this case. There’s a difference between what happened on the scene and what can be proven in court. We take our duty seriously. Our job is to be your advocate.

We presume that you’re innocent until proven guilty. If you blew a .08 that doesn’t necessarily mean the machines were working properly. That doesn’t mean necessarily that the officers were properly trained on the administration of standardized field sobriety tests. Call us now. If you’re looking to give up before the game starts we’re not your law firm. If you’re looking for diligent, zealous representation, we are more than willing to speak with you.

Choosing an Attorney

Choosing a lawyer for an impaired driving case is roughly equivalent to choosing a doctor when you face a serious medical condition. You’re probably going to want to find the right combination between bedside manner, experience, and professional accolades. Do your homework. See what certifications are on the wall. See if you’re DUI attorney is a board certified specialist in criminal defense.

Look at websites like,, or They can set forth with the membership requirements are for inclusion in each of those groups. I encourage you to find someone that focuses their practice on DWI in the state of North Carolina. I encourage you to check out credentials. That way you feel most comfortable with the lawyer you are retaining. That way you can make an educated, confident decision on the appropriate way to proceed in your case.