Most people who receive charges for driving while impaired (DWI) learn their lesson after their first offense. Even first-time DWI charges can carry serious consequences in North Carolina, and the risk of further penalties is unpalatable for most. Yet, you may have received charges for a second or third DWI offense, and you might worry it will qualify as a felony. In some cases, it may. But your charges will depend on your number of prior offenses and whether aggravating circumstances were at play.
Misdemeanor versus felony charges
Absent aggravating factors, your first and second DWI offenses will qualify as misdemeanors. If you commit a third DWI offense outside of a seven-year period, you will receive misdemeanor charges as well. Yet, these offenses become felonies if you caused an accident with fatalities. You will also face felony charges after committing your third DWI offense within a seven-year period. In this case, North Carolina will classify you as a habitual offender, and any further offense you commit will qualify as a felony as well.
Penalties for felony charges
If your felony DWI charges lead to conviction, you will spend at least one year in prison. You will serve the first year of your sentence in full, without the possibility of suspension. Furthermore, the state will seize your vehicle and may sell it at auction at their discretion. You will also have to participate in a court-ordered substance abuse program. And your driver’s license will be permanently revoked. Keep in mind that you can petition the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to reinstate your license. Yet, if you are a habitual offender, you must wait 10 years after completing your sentence before you can do so. And you will only qualify for reinstatement if you have had no further criminal convictions and have remained substance-free during this period.
Because North Carolina has some of the strictest DWI laws in the country, you must establish a strong defense against your charges. A criminal defense attorney can help you fight to retain your driving privileges.