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Impaired Driving Sentencing (Part I)




Structured Sentencing

for Drunk Driving in NC (Part I)


In North Carolina, Drunk Driving convictions are punished under a scheme called structured sentencing. If a person pleads guilty or is found guilty by the Court for impaired driving, the court will look to a series of factors to determine the appropriate sentencing level.


Sentencing levels range from Level A1 to Level 5, with each level outlining its own sentencing standards. To determine the appropriate sentencing level, the Judge will examine a series of sentencing factors to determine the appropriate level and sentence.


First, the court will look for the presence of Grossly Aggravating Factors. If there are Grossly Aggravating Factors found, the Court will impose either a Level A1, 1 or 2 sentence. Grossly Aggravating Factors (GAFs) include:


1. A prior conviction for an offense involving impaired driving within 7 years

2. Driving while the Defendant's License was revoked for an impaired driving offense

3. Causing an accident in which another person is seriously injured

4. Driving with a passenger under the age of 18, or other legal disability


If the Judge finds 3 or more GAF's the Court must impose a level A1 sentence. If there are 2 GAF's, or if Factor (4) was found, the DUI will be sentenced as a Level 1. If there is only 1 GAF and it is not a Factor (4), then the Judge must impose Level 2 sentencing.


After determining the existence or absence of any Grossly Aggravating Factors, the Court will then look to determine Aggravating and Mitigating Factors.


Aggravating Factors include:

  • Gross impairment of the defendant’s faculties while driving or an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more within a relevant time after the driving

  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving

  • Negligent driving that led to a "reportable" accident

  • Driving by the defendant while his driver’s license was revoked

  • Two or more prior traffic convictions for which at least three points are assigned, or for which the license is subject to revocation with in the five years preceding the date of offense

  • a conviction of an offense involving impaired driving that occurred more than seven years before the date of the offense

  • A conviction of speeding by while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension

  • A conviction of speeding by at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit

  • Passing a stopped school bus in violation of G.S. 20-217.

  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

Mitigating Factors include:

  • Slight impairment from alcohol, & a BAC not exceeding 0.09 at any relevant time

  • Slight impairment resulting solely from alcohol & no chemical analysis having been available to the defendant

  • Driving at the time of the offense that was safe and lawful except for the impairment of the defendant’s faculties

  • A safe driving record (t no traffic convictions for which at least four points are assigned or for which the person’s license is subject to revocation within five years

  • Impairment caused primarily by a lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition, and the amount of the drug taken was within the prescribed dosage

  • The defendant’s voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment after he was charged with the impaired driving offense for which he is being sentenced, and, if recommended by the facility, his voluntary participation in the recommended treatment

  • Completion of a substance abuse assessment, compliance with its recommendations, and simultaneously maintaining 60  days of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring system.

  • Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.

The Judge will then “weigh” or balance the Aggravating Factors against the Mitigating Factors. If the AF's outweigh the MF's, the Judge will impose a Level 3 sentence. If the aggravating and mitigating factors balance out, the Judge will impose a Level 4 sentence. If the MF's outweigh the AF's, the Judge will impose a Level 5 sentence.


Sadly, there are no guarantees with Structured Sentencing. The law provides a sentencing range, but ultimately the Judge has great discretion in determining the appropriate sentence, including how much jail time, community service, probation, or how much of a fine to impose.


As always, your Drunk Driving questions are best answered by speaking with an experienced DWI Defense Attorney who can evaluate all of the information surrounding your particular situation. Every situation is unique, and thus generalized information is only a starting point, not a sure thing.

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