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Impaired Driving Sentencing (Part II)

DWI / DUI Defense Lawyer

Structured Sentencing for Drunk Driving in NC (Part II)

In Part I, located HERE, we briefly discussed Structured Sentencing for impaired driving offenses in North Carolina. To recap, a conviction for impaired driving (dwi) is sentenced based on the level of the offense. These levels include Aggravated A1, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The specific factors of each case will determine which level is the appropriate level for sentencing. The Court will look at the factors of the case to determine the existence of Grossly Aggravating Factors, Aggravating Factors and Mitigating Factors. The Court will then impose the appropriate sentencing level.

Universal punishments

While each sentencing level is unique, every DWI conviction in North Carolina will also include some universal punishments.

Court Costs

For instance, every impaired driving offense conviction will include court costs. In District Court, where most DWI’s are resolved, the Court Costs total $290.00 if paid the day of conviction. A payment plan, or more specifically time to pay the total balance, is generally allowed, and incurs an additional cost of $20.00


Every DWI conviction will also include a fine. The fines are generally in the discretion of the Court; and the Judge will impose a fine based on the factors of the case. While the minimum fine is not clearly established, my experience illustrates a minimum fine of $100.00. The maximum fine is determined by the sentencing level. The following chart illustrates the maximum fine allowed based on the sentencing level:

License Revocations

Additionally, every DWI sentence will include the revocation of the person’s North Carolina Driver’s License for a minimum period of 12 Months. Out of State driver’s convicted in North Carolina may retain their home state license, however they must sign an affidavit acknowledging that they may not operate a vehicle in North Carolina. Many times, said person’s home state will also revoke the person’s driver’s license, however this varies by state. A person convicted of impaired driving in North Carolina may be eligible for a limited driving privilege during this revocation period. Again, this determination is fact sensitive, and the decision to grant is left to the Judge’s discretion.

Substance Abuse Assessments

Every DUI conviction will also include the requirement to obtain an Alcohol or Drug Use Assessment. This Assessment will be required to restore a person’s driving privileges as well. The Assessment is a one-on-one counseling session in which a certified substance abuse counselor will interview the person to determine the appropriate level of “treatment.” The treatment is generally group counseling sessions, however the treatment can vary widely based on the person’s history with drug or alcohol use.

There are some additional common items, including standard terms of probation in suspended sentence cases. I will discuss Suspended Sentences in Part III, located HERE. As for the minimum and maximum sentences, the following outlines the standard sentencing ranges. The Sentencing Judge will either impose a suspended sentence or an active sentence of incarceration within the ranges.


I differentiate the sentencing levels based on two tiers. The first tier includes punishment levels A1, 1 and 2. These sentencing levels are only imposed when there are Grossly Aggravating Factors founds by the Court. Although the Court is required to impose these sentencing levels based on Grossly Aggravating Factors only, the Sentencing Judge will typically consider Aggravating and Mitigating Factors to determine what sentence to impose.

Aggravated A1

“Aggravated or A1” is the most severe of the sentencing levels. This level is only imposed where there are three or more grossly aggravating factors. Once this level is imposed the Court may choose an appropriate sentence with a Minimum of 12 Months and

Maximum of 36 Months.

Level 1

The Court will impose a level 1 sentence if there is a child under the age of 18 or “a person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle in the car during the impaired driving or if there are 2 Grossly Aggravated Factors. Once this level is imposed the Court may choose an appropriate sentence with a Minimum of 30 Days and a Maximum 24 Months.

Level 2

The Court will impose a level 2 sentence if there is only one aggravating factor. Once this level is imposed the Court may choose an appropriate sentence with a Minimum of 7 days and a Maximum of 12 months.


If the Court determines that there are no Grossly Aggravating Factors, the Court must impose a sentence from Level 3, 4, or 5. The Court is much more likely to impose a suspended Sentence from these levels, however, the Sentencing Judge may still impose a punishment that includes active jail time. The Court will then weigh the Aggravating and Minimum factors to determine the appropriate sentence level.

Levels 3, 4, & 5

Where the Aggravating Factors outweigh the Mitigating Factors, the court will impose a Level 3 punishment. Once imposed, the Court will then choose an appropriate sentence with a Minimum of 72 Hours and a Maximum of 6 Months.

Where the Aggravating Factors equal the Mitigating Factors, the Court will impose a Level 4 punishment. The appropriate sentence ranges from a Minimum of 48 Hours to a Maximum of 120 Days.

Finally, where the Mitigating Factors outweigh the Aggravating Factors, the Court will impose the lowest possible punishment, a Level 5. The Level 5 punishment includes a sentencing range with a Minimum of 24 Hours to a Maximum 60 Days.

There is no easy way to predict what punishment will a person charged with a DWI in North Carolina get. However, an Experienced DWI Attorney will go through the specific factors of each case to estimate what sentencing level, and accordingly what punishment will be imposed. Many times, the knowledge of the DUI Defense Lawyer will enable a person charged with an impaired driving offense to act before sentencing to secure a better sentence.

As always, your Drunk Driving questions are best answered by speaking with an experienced DWI Defense Lawyer who can evaluate all of the information surrounding your particular situation. Every situation is unique, and therefore this general information is only a starting point.

The Law offices of Timothy Dugan offers free consultations for DWI Defense!

Contact us today to discuss your case.

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