NC DWI Penalties and Sentencing Levels

Under current law, North Carolina now has six levels of punishment for a DWI conviction, whether by trial or plea.  The current levels range from Aggravated Level 1 (worst level) to Level 5 (best level). After the judge determines which factors apply, he/she will then rule on your DWI Level and punishment accordingly. Aggravated Level 1, Level 1, and Level 2 sentences involve active jail time and no provision for a Limited Driving Privilege. Conversely, Levels 3, Level 4, or Level 5 sentences do not require active jail time (although the judge technically does have the discretion to put the person in jail) and do allow for a Limited Driving Privilege.

So how does a judge decide which level of punishment to give? If the Mitigating Factors outweigh the Aggravating factors, the judge will give a Level 5 punishment. When no factors are present or the factors balance each other, a Level 4 punishment will be given. When Aggravating Factors outweigh Mitigating Factors, a defendant can expect a Level 3 punishment. But, if there is a single Grossly Aggravating Factor present, you will automatically be at a Level 2. In cases where there are 2 Grossly Aggravating factors, the defendant will be given a Level 1. And, in those truly serious cases where there are 3 or more Grossly Aggravating factors, the punishment will be at the newly established Aggravated Level 1.

What is our role in helping to determine punishment levels as your Charlotte DWI attorney? Our first role as your DWI lawyer is to make an assessment as to whether the State of North Carolina can prove their case against you. We assemble and then carefully review all available evidence, including reports, officer notes, and any video evidence. We also meet with the arresting officer to review their recollection of your arrest and processing. After we are satisfied we have seen everything, we then review our opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of your case and make recommendations.

If you decide that you want to try your case, we are here to take the case to trial.  If you decide that a plea is in your best interests, we then start the process of establishing Mitigating Factors in order to get you the lowest punishment level allowed under law. This may require a current assessment, completion of recommended treatment, or in some cases, more intensive options such as inpatient treatment for alcohol or drug addiction issues. No matter what we suggest, you remain in charge of your case and life throughout the entire representation. We are here to advise and guide you. But in the end, you make all decisions after counsel.

The following chart is a quick summary of the various punishment levels and what is involved:

Punishment Levels:

Aggravated Level One Punishment:

  • Jail – 12 months up to 36 months with no parole
  • Fine – up to $10,000.00

Level One Punishment:

  • Jail – 30 Days up to 24 Months
  • Fine – up to $4,000.00

Level Two Punishment:

  • Jail – 7 Days up to 12 Months
  • Fine – up to $2,000.00

Level Three Punishment:

  • Jail – 72 hours up to 6 months (community service option)
  • Fine – up to $1,000.00

Level Four Punishment:

  • Jail – 48 hours up to 120 days (community service option)
  • Fine – up to $500.00

Level Five Punishment:

  • Jail – 24 hours up to 60 days (community service option)
  • Fine – up to $200.00

If the defendant is placed on probation, judges will also order defendants to obtain a substance abuse assessment as well as education or treatment required by G.S. 20‑17.6 for the restoration of a drivers license and as a condition of probation. The judge may impose any other lawful condition of probation.


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