Possible Changes to DWI Laws in North Carolina

Several recent proposals under consideration at the North Carolina legislature would increase penalties for first time and repeat DWI offenders. The changes are part of a pattern to stiffen DWI penalties in the state.

The first bill changes the definition of habitual offender. Under current law, a DWI habitual offender is someone charged with four DWIs in a ten-year period. The habitual offender charge is a felony. Penalties for a Class F habitual offender impaired driving violation are serious. They include a minimum sentence of 12 months in jail, which the court cannot waive. In addition, driver's license revocation and forfeiture of a vehicle are also possible.

The proposed amendment to the law would remove the ten-year look back period. House Bill 31 passed its first reading in the North Carolina House and the legislation continues to move through the General Assembly.

The change, while apparently simple, means that DWI convictions from youthful days could come back into play after 20 or 30 years without another issue.

Ignition interlock program may become broader

The other proposed bill affects ignition interlock devices. The measure would require ignition interlocks devices for every DWI conviction. Currently first-time offenders are not required to install an ignition interlock device in North Carolina, provided they do not have a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or more.

Ignition interlocks require that a driver take a breathalyzer before starting his or her vehicle. The device will not allow the car to start when it detects alcohol. Often, a driver will be required to retest while driving to ensure he or she does not drink while in the vehicle.

Several other states have recently proposed adding cameras to the ignition interlock devices, so that no tampering can occur. So far, these proposals have not made it to North Carolina, but if they do, they will likely increase the cost of the program.

Under current North Carolina law, ignition interlocks are ordered when an individual operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or more or has more than one impaired driving conviction within seven years.

First and second offenses for DWI in North Carolina are misdemeanors. Even a first offense comes with a possibility of jail time, community service, a fine and driver's license suspension. A second offense comes with longer jail and community service sentences, higher fines, driver's license suspension and an ignition interlock.

A DWI charge can affect your ability to get to work, obtain future housing and employment with the increased use of criminal background checks. It is important to contact an experienced DWI defense attorney immediately to review charges and the facts of your case. An experienced lawyer is able to advise of possible defenses and can ensure your rights are protected.