Many people in the Charlotte area may know someone who has been charged with a DWI and had to go through the case.

The image of police checkpoints and roadside sobriety tests may also give people the impression drunk driving charges are fairly common and don’t have to be taken seriously.

But if one looks at the actual possible penalties for a DWI, it paints a different picture.

First offenses

Even the least serious DWI offense, for first-time offenders and no aggravating circumstances, will have to spend at least 1 day in jail or do some alternate punishment, such as 24 hours of community service or not driving for 30 days. A fine of up to $200 is also possible.

Moreover, once a person gets charged with a DWI and either refuses a certified tests or tests over .08, he or she will face an automatic license revocation for 30 days. If convicted of a DWI, the revocation will last an additional 1 year.

For first-time offenders, a restricted license to get to and from work and other essential activities may be available if there are no aggravating circumstances. In order to get full privileges restored, the defendant will have to pay for a substance abuse assessment and comply with any recommendations.

Prior convictions and aggravating circumstances

In North Carolina, the penalties for DWI get harsher if a person has prior convictions or gets arrested for another DWI while his or her license is revoked for a prior DWI.

Penalties may also increase if a person’s blood alcohol content is especially high, if there was an accident or if a child was in the car at the time of the alleged offense. Penalties are also tougher for commercial drivers and drivers under 21.

The most serious DWI charge, short of a felony, can lead to a $4,000 fine and up to 2 years in jail. If convicted, the person must spend at least 30 days in jail. The person will get at least a 1-year license revocation without the benefit of a restricted license and may receive a 4-your revocation if the person had a recent prior DWI.

Vehicle forfeiture 

For those convicted of drunk driving while on a suspended license for a prior DWI, one interesting feature of North Carolina law is that the police can seize the person’s vehicle and then sell it if the person gets convicted.

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