Driving While Impaired Attorneys in North Carolina

North Carolina's DWI legislation is relatively tough, especially considering the state's recent efforts to deter impaired driving among motorists within state lines. A statewide highway safety campaign, known as “booze it or lose it,” encourages North Carolina law enforcement officers to use their discretion in finding, detaining and punishing anyone who is found to be drinking and driving on roadways.

With the state's apparent interest in impaired driving enforcement, it is no surprise that North Carolina has imposed harsh DWI laws to punish those who drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is why it's important that you know your rights. And in the event that you find yourself in a sticky situation, experienced legal representation will be able to help you protect and fight for your rights.

North Carolina DWI Laws

Although the basis of state laws infer that it is possible for a person to be too impaired by alcohol or drugs to drive, there is no uniform definition that describes what this exactly means. However, law enforcement agencies nationwide typically assess a person's level of impairment by noting the behavior they exhibit. Officers look out for drivers who may have a hard time staying in their lane or may be driving too quickly.

Alcohol Impairment

North Carolina alcohol impairment laws parallel the laws enforced in every other state in the nation. In the United States, most motorists that are arrested for driving impaired usually have a blood alcohol content level above the legal limit. If an individual is found to have gone over the following BAC limits via breathalyzer, urine, or a blood test, he or she will be charged with a DUI in the state of North Carolina:

  • An individual who is 21 or older - 0.08% or higher
  • A commercial driver who operates a commercial vehicle - 0.04% or higher
  • Any person under the age of 21 - any evidence of the consumption of alcohol detected

Alongside the well-known BAC legal limits in the state, there are some other DWI regulations that North Carolina residents should be aware of in the event that they are pulled over by a police officer. If found in violation of these laws, a driver may be subject to harsher sentences and penalties.

Zero-Tolerance State

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), there has been an uprising trend of young people under the age of 21 who are being injured and killed in alcohol-related collisions. One of the state's attempts to resolve this issue is the enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy specifically aimed at underage drinkers. In accordance with the law, anyone under the age of 21 who operates a motor vehicle is prohibited from driving while drinking and driving while any amount of alcohol consumed is still in his or her system. The repercussions corresponding with the violation of this legislation are impactful and can taint the future of a young person if charges are acquired. Young people may face the following consequences:

  • License revocation for a year
  • A fine up to $1,000
  • Possible jail time
  • Limited driving privileges (if it is his or her first offense)

Open Container Law

Unlike the zero-tolerance policy, the open container law applies to every North Carolina driver, young or old. It outlines a number of rules geared at literal containers with alcohol in them found in a vehicle. The state does not allow an open container of any alcoholic beverage to be in the passenger area of any motor vehicle - even if the vehicle is parked. For commercial vehicles and drivers, open and closed containers may not be located in any part of a commercial vehicle. Under this law, a broken seal is considered an open container. However, as with most regulations, there are exceptions.

People who occupy vehicles used primarily to transport people for compensation (buses, limousines, taxis etc.) are permitted to carry open containers of alcohol with them. They can not be cited for this violation if they are found to have alcohol in one of these motor vehicles unless they are under the age of 21.

Drug Impairment

A DUI may also be acquired by driving under the influence of drugs. This includes marijuana, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or any other illegal substances found in a person's system by way of a chemical test.

As with alcohol DWI cases, North Carolina's zero tolerance legislation also applies to drug consumption. This means, that if an officer stops a motorist under the suspicion that they are impaired by a drug, they may be given a drug test in an attempt to affirm an officer's inkling. If any traces of any medications or drugs are found in a driver's system, they may be charged with a DWI.

North Carolina DWI Penalties

North Carolina assigns levels to DWI charges and penalties, ranging from level 1, the most serious DWI offense, to level 5, the least serious.These levels are determined based on a variety of factors, including prior convictions, driving records, license revocation and suspension history, the BAC reading a driver had at the time of arrest, the presence of children in a vehicle etc. When facing a DWI, a motorist should expect the following penalties in correlation with the level of DWI they have been charged with:

Level 5

  • A fine that won't exceed $200
  • 24 hours to 60 days in jail

Level 4

  • A fine that won't exceed $500
  • 48 to 120 days in jail

Level 3

  • A fine that won't exceed $1,000
  • 72 hours to 6 months in jail

Level 2

  • A fine that won't exceed $2,000
  • 7 days to a year spent in jail

Level 1

  • A fine that won't exceed $4,000
  • 30 days to 2 years in jail

When a person is convicted of a DWI, their license will be suspended anywhere from six months up to one year at the court's discretion. Limited driving privileges may be granted if drivers do not have prior impaired driving convictions.

Experienced North Carolina DWI Attorneys

If you have been arrested and charged with a DWI in Cleveland County, North Carolina, it does not guarantee a conviction. Attorneys Caulder & Valentine are dedicated to protecting your rights. Contact us today for a consultation.


Shelby Office
303 West Marion Street
Shelby, NC 28150
704.754.8401 (fax)
Gastonia Office
316 S Chester St
Gastonia, NC 28052
704.754.8401 (fax)