Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is the most common way North Carolina police determine whether a driver is legally impaired. Under North Carolina DUI laws, BAC limits are different based on age, type of driver (commercial or non-commercial), and an individual’s recorded DUI history.
This article will outline laws and consequences regarding DUI (driving under the influence) in the state of North Carolina. North Carolina DUI laws were revamped in 1983, when the state did away with the previous drug and alcohol-related driving laws and combined them under DWI (Driving While Impaired) laws.
North Carolina DUI Laws
What Is the Blood Alcohol Concentration Limit?
North Carolina DUI laws state that the legal BAC limit for a driver who is 21 years old or older is 0.08%. Commercial drivers should not exceed a BAC of 0.04%. Anyone under the age of 21 years is considered legally impaired with any blood alcohol concentration over 0.00%. The legal BAC limit for a driver who has a previous DUI is 0.04%.
What Happens If I get Pulled Over?
If you are suspected of driving under the influence, the police will typically ask you to step out of the vehicle. However, even before any roadside test is administered, officers are paying close attention to the way you look, act, and smell. They are also making note of what you say. They will also look to see if your mental and physical fitness are impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both. Then, they may want to administer a field sobriety test (FST), where you are asked to respond verbally and perform certain physical tasks. Whether you complete a FST or not, you may be asked to do a BAC test to determine whether you are legally impaired.
If an open container of alcohol or drugs are seen in the vehicle, this violates North Carolina DUI law as well, and has its own consequences even if you are not under the influence of the substance(s). Officers look for alcohol and drugs in plain sight once you are pulled over. After you have been pulled over, what happens next is determined by the findings of the BAC test and/or other assessments, and your behavior during the incident.
Can I refuse the BAC Test?
Yes, you can refuse the BAC test. You can refuse to give any statements, refuse the field sobriety tests, and refuse the breathalyzer.If you know for certain that you are not under the influence or over the legal limit, you may want to just go ahead and take the tests. Even if you are not impaired, you may still be cited or warned for any traffic violations the officer has found.
What Happens If I Refuse It?
If you refuse to take the BAC test, you may still be arrested and charged with DUI/DWI. If you are not too heavily intoxicated (maybe slightly over the limit), your BAC can drop from over the limit to under it in the amount of time it takes to arrest you and process you at the station. However, you will be asked to take the EC/IR II test, which requires you to give a formal breathalyzer sample at the station. If you refuse it there are consequences:
- You are marked as a “willful refusal” and the Department of Motor Vehicles suspends your driver’s license for a year. The automatic 1 year suspension occurs regardless of whether you are convicted or not.
- Police will not give up on getting your BAC. They will transport you to the nearest clinic or hospital to have your blood drawn.
- If your blood test results indicate that you were over the legal limit, then you will pay a $600 lab fee at the conclusion of your case.
Can I Plead “Wet Reckless”?
Prosecutors may be hesitant to offer plea bargain arrangements for DUIs due to public pressure. However, you may be able to plead “wet reckless” if it is your first offense, your BAC is borderline (either slightly above or slightly below the legal limit), and there is no property damage or personal injury involved. As a reduced charge, “wet reckless” plea usually carries fewer punishments, obligations, and costs than the typical North Carolina DUI laws violations.
What Are the Penalties I Should Expect?
North Carolina DUI laws classify DWIs by level: Level I is the most serious and Level V is the least serious. Each level carries its own set of punishments. Administrative penalties (license suspension) can apply even if a person is not convicted.
- You are penalized with up to $200 in fines.
- You could spend 24 hours (minimum) to 60 days (maximum) in jail.
- The sentence can be suspended after the driver serves 24 hours in jail, completes 24 hours of community service, or spends 30 days without driving.
- You will pay up to $500 in fines.
- Spend a minimum of 48 hours or up to a maximum of 120 days in jail.
- The sentence can be suspended by a judge after the driver spends 48 hours in jail, does community service for 48 hours, or goes 60 days without driving.
- It will cost you up to $1,000 in fines.
- Go to jail for a minimum of 72 hours up to a maximum of 6 months.
- If the driver serves 72 hours in jail, does 72 hours of community service, or goes 90 days without driving, a judge may, however, suspend the sentence.
- Your fines can be up to $2,000.
- Do from 7 days (minimum) to a 1 year (maximum) of jail-time.
- The minimum sentence is mandatory, so the judge cannot suspend it.
- It will cost you up to $4,000 in fines.
- You’ll spend as little as 30 days, or as much as 2 years in jail.
- You must serve the mandatory minimum sentence.
Drivers who have had three DWI convictions within the past seven years are considered habitual offenders. The Habitual DWI statute mandates a minimum of one year in jail. The sentence cannot be suspended by a judge. While in jail, or as a condition of parole, the offender must undergo a substance abuse program.
First Offense DUI
The administrative penalty is that your licensed is suspended for one year. Criminal penalties are based on the level of the offense which is determined by mitigating factors such as BAC, prescription medications, and driving record.
Second Offense DUI
For the administrative penalty, your license is suspended for 4 years. You are eligible for a hearing in 2 years. The criminal penalties are based on the level of the offense.
Third Offense DUI
Your license is permanently suspended. You are eligible for a hearing in 3 years. Criminal penalties are according to which level DUI you are convicted of, if convicted.
Fourth Offence DUI
Your license is suspended and as a habitual offender, your criminal penalties fall under the Habitual DWI statute.
In conclusion, driving while under the influence can be costly in several ways. Violating North Carolina DUI laws can cost you your freedom, your money, and your reputation. At worst, it could cost you your life. You could also cause harm or death to others. You will lose your license and be punished under criminal law.
The punishment will depend on the level of the offense. It is important to know your rights, and make the best decisions for your individual situation. Also share this information with your friends and relatives.