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The 5 Distinct Phases of a DUI/DWI Sentence in North Carolina
Drunk driving (DUI / DWI) violation convictions can carry heavy penalties. In North Carolina, you can lose your driver’s license for up to a year after your first DUI. This is why it is important to immediately contact a DUI attorney in North Carolina. Some violations can even bring about jail time, including:
• DUI convictions seven or fewer years after another DUI / DWI
• DUI convictions involving passengers 15 years of age or younger
• Drunk driving incidents resulting in serious injuries to another person
• Drunk driving occurring while a license is suspended for an alcohol-related crime
Below are the 5 distinct phases of a DUI/DWI Sentence:
Phase 1: DWI – DUI Vehicle in Motion
o This is the first phase of the DWI stop where law enforcement is looking for cues that would indicate whether or not the driver is impaired. Examples of these cues could be, weaving, slow driving, slow response to lights, failure to dim lights, etc. A good DWI defense lawyer will be able to analyze this phase for potential absence of these cues. For example, swerving has to be of a certain nature in order to justify the stop.
o Law enforcement can’t just pull you for no reason. There must be some violation of the rules of the road or at least some substantial articulated set of facts that would lead the officer to believe criminal conduct is occurring or is about to occur.
Phase 2: DUI Personal Contact
o In this second phase of the DWI stop the officer will be looking for typical cues. For example, empty containers, blood shot eyes, fumbling, slurred speech, abusive language, odor of alcohol or other drugs, open containers, etc.
o Officers may intentionally ask certain types of questions to detect unusual levels of confusion.
o The amount of time these stops take is important, as they must be reasonably brief. Many post stop cues may or may not be evident in each situation. This portion of the stop must be analyzed by your DWI defense lawyer to see if any effective defenses exist at this phase.
Phase 3:DWI – DUI Pre-Arrest
o At this point, the officer will begin to perform certain physical sobriety tests, as well as a field breathalyzer (BPT) to confirm alcohol present. Many behaviors are being monitored during this phase. Physical ability such as balance and characteristics of gait are observed. Also gaze testing for eye behavior is observed.
o Officers must be qualified to administer these tests properly. These tests are horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn and on-leg stand.
o Also, an officer needs probable cause to make an arrest absent a warrant.
o Your DWI defense attorney should scrutinize this process thoroughly for any holes in the administration of these tests, as well as the strength of the results of the tests to justify an arrest.
Phase 4:DWI – DUI Blood Alcohol Level (BAC)
o At this point the administration of the Intoximeter ECIR (breathalyzer) or Blood Test must be considered. There are a number of rules and regulations that need to be followed in order to verify the legality of this process.
o Many are surprised to find out that drivers with BAC levels at or below the legal limit of .08 are often times charged regardless. An effective DWI defense attorney will be able to review this process for the possibility of suppressing these results.
Phase 5:DWI – DUI Sentencing
o This phase becomes important if all the other phases are not capable of being effectively challenged.
o DWI – DUI is sentenced based on 6 levels ranging from 5 to 1 (plus an aggravated level 1, the worst level of punishment).
o Depending on previous DWI – DUI charges, and the weighing of a number of factors that either help (mitigating) or hurt (aggravating) , the convicted will end up with a sentencing level and the commensurate punishment.
o A finding of one or more grossly aggravating factors may propel the level of punishment into the 1-2 range where fines can reach up to $10,000 and prison time measured in years. Even the less harsh level 3-5 can add up to several hundred dollars in fines and several days of community service and/or jail time.
o Mitigating factors (good things) help balance out bad factors and lower the sentencing level. Examples of such factors are, slight impairment solely from alcohol with BAC of .09 or lower, safe driving except for the impairment, submission to an assessment and treatment program if necessary, good driving record, and others. Fortunately, a lower standard of proof, “preponderance of evidence” (basically means tip the scale to your favor) is all that is needed for you and your DWI defense Lawyer to establish the mitigating (helpful) factors.
o Aggravating factors worsen the level of severity and punishment. For example: Blood alcohol at or above .15, reckless driving, driving while license revoked (DWLR) at the time of the incident, causing an accident, and several others. Your DWI defense attorney may be able to argue against aggravating factors that are weak as the state must prove these factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
o Grossly aggravating factors that greatly worsen the level of punishment are, DWI within 7 years of the current offense, passengers under the age of 18, revoked for impaired driving at the time of the incident, or causing serious injury to another resulting from the incident. Again, your DWI defense Lawyer will be able to argue against any weak Grossly aggravating factors.
o Representation at this point is important, as your DWI defense lawyer will help to ensure that the aggravating factors are proven and that the mitigating factors are considered to lower the damage to as little as possible for sentencing purposes.