DWI: Aggravating & Mitigating Factors

In North Carolina, a conviction for driving while impaired (DWI) can have serious consequences. When deciding what an appropriate penalty will be, a court will consider any factors or circumstances that may be relevant to a specific case. Some details, known as aggravating factors, may cause the court to decide that a harsher criminal penalty is necessary. Others, known as mitigating factors, may cause the court to reduce the penalty that is imposed.

If you are facing DWI charges in North Carolina, it will be important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. Your attorney will represent you at your sentencing hearing and fight to reduce the consequences of your conviction by highlighting mitigating factors and contesting any aggravating factors that may be asserted by the state. Contact the DWI attorneys at Caulder & Valentine today to learn more.

DWI Sentencing in North Carolina

Once you have been convicted of DWI in North Carolina the court will have to determine a penalty that fits your crime. North Carolina law (N.C.G.S. §20-179) requires that, after a DWI conviction, a “judge shall hold a sentencing hearing to determine whether there are aggravating or mitigating factors that affect the sentence to be imposed.”

How do these aggravating and mitigating factors play a role in determining an appropriate criminal sentence? A sentence for DWI can range from Aggravated Level One, which carries the harshest penalties, to Level Five, which carries the least severe penalties. Aggravating factors will tend to cause the crime to be classified at or near Level One, while mitigating factors can help to have a crime classified at or near Level Five. A judge will have the discretion to determine how much weight should be given to each aggravating and mitigating factor that may be relevant to a case.

Sentencing Levels

DWI sentences depend on the “level” assigned to a defendant's crime, which is based on an evaluation of aggravating and mitigating factors. Here's how aggravating and mitigating factors can affect a criminal sentence.

Aggravated Level One: three or more grossly aggravating factors

Level One: two or more grossly aggravating factors

Level Two: one grossly aggravating factor

Level Three: aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors

Level Four: aggravating factors and mitigating factors are of equal weight

Level Five: mitigating factors outweigh aggravating factors

DWI Aggravating Factors

Aggravating factors are circumstances or details that tend to make a crime more serious. As a result, the penalty for a crime can become harsher when aggravating factors are present. In North Carolina, aggravating factors for DWI can be classified as (a) aggravating factors or (b) grossly aggravating factors.

Aggravating Factors

In North Carolina, aggravating factors, as defined in N.C.G.S. §20-179(d), for DWI include the following.

  • Gross impairment of the defendant's ability to drive.
  • Alcohol concentration of .15 or more shortly after the DWI offense.
  • Reckless or dangerous driving.
  • Negligent driving resulting in a reportable accident.
  • Driving on a revoked driver's license.
  • At least two prior motor vehicle convictions, not involving DWI, for which at least three points are assigned or a license is subject to revocation.
  • Conviction for speeding while fleeing or attempting to elude arrest.
  • Conviction for speeding 30 MPH or more over the legal limit.
  • Passing a stopped school bus.
  • Other factors that make the offense more serious.

DWI Grossly Aggravating Factors

Grossly aggravating factors, which will cause the penalty for DWI to be the most severe, and as defined in N.C.G.S. §20-179(c), include the following.

  • Prior DWI conviction within seven years of the current offense.
  • Second DWI conviction after current offense, but prior to sentencing.
  • Prior DWI conviction that occurred in district court, appealed to superior court, subsequently withdrawn or remanded to district court, and a new sentencing hearing has not been held.
  • Driving with a revoked license for a prior DWI offense.
  • Causing serious injury to another person at the time of the DWI offense.
  • Driving while a child under the age of 18 at the time of the DWI offense.

Each prior DWI conviction will be considered a separate grossly aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing.

DWI Mitigating Factors

Sometimes there are factors and circumstances that can help to reduce the consequences of a DWI conviction. Mitigating factors,as defined in N.C.G.S. §20-179(e), for DWI can include the following.

  • Slight impairment that is only caused by alcohol, where a driver's BAC did not exceed .09 percent.
  • The driver's conduct was safe and lawful, but for the impairment.
  • Demonstrating a safe driving record prior to the DWI offense (no conviction for a driving offense resulting in four points or having a license subject to revocation).
  • Impairment was the result of consuming the correct dose of lawfully prescribed medication.
  • Defendant's voluntary submission to a mental health facility after the DWI offense.
  • Defendant's voluntary completion of a substance abuse treatment program after the DWI offense while abstaining from alcohol for a minimum of 60 days.
  • Other factors a judge deems to mitigate the seriousness of the DWI offense.

North Carolina DWI Attorneys

The penalty for a DWI conviction can depend on certain factors that are relevant to your case. A judge is empowered with the discretion to determine how much weight should be given to any mitigating and aggravating factors that are presented. Hiring an attorney to represent you at sentencing will help to ensure that the penalty that is imposed is not unnecessarily harsh.

Your attorney will contest any aggravating factors that are presented by the state and highlight the importance of any mitigating factors that may be helpful to you. Reducing the level at which your DWI is punished will help to protect your future. Call the North Carolina DWI attorneys at Caulder & Valentine today to request a consultation. We will review your case, explain your rights at sentencing, and address any concerns you have.


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)