In North Carolina, a misdemeanor conviction for driving while impaired (DWI) will remain on an individual’s criminal record for seven years. A felony conviction for DWI will remain on their criminal record for 10 years. The time that a DWI remains on a criminal record is called a lookback period. A North Carolina DWI stays on a person’s driving record and can affect their auto insurance rates for up to 10 years.
Misdemeanor and Felony DWIs
There are five levels of misdemeanor DWI, with level I being the most serious and level V being the least serious. These are:
- Level V DWI: Punishable by a fine up to $200 and a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours, with a maximum jail sentence of 60 days. A judge can suspend the sentence after the driver spends 24 hours in jail and performs 24 hours of community service or agrees not to operate a vehicle for 30 days.
- Level IV DWI: Punishable by a fine up to $500 and a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours, with a maximum jail sentence of 120 days. A judge can suspend the sentence after the driver spends 48 hours in jail and performs 48 hours of community service or agrees not to operate a vehicle for 60 days.
- Level III DWI: Punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours, with a maximum jail sentence of six months. A judge can suspend the sentence after the driver spends 72 hours in jail and performs 72 hours of community service or agrees not to operate a vehicle for 90 days.
- Level II DWI: Punishable by a fine up to $2,000 and a minimum jail sentence of seven days, with a maximum jail sentence of one year. A judge cannot suspend the minimum sentence.
- Level I DWI: Punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days, with a maximum prison sentence of two years. A judge cannot suspend the minimum sentence.
Substance Abuse Assessments
Level I and II offenders must complete a substance abuse assessment. They are required to comply with any recommended treatment in order to have their driver’s license restored at the end of the revocation period. A habitual DWI offender is a driver who has had three prior DWI convictions in the previous 10 years.
Felony DWI Charges
Being charged with a third DWI within 10 years results in the offender being charged with a felony. The minimum sentence for a felony DWI in North Carolina is up to one year of jail time, with no suspension of sentence. The offender must go through a substance abuse treatment program in jail or as a condition of parole.
Typically, if an offender committed a prior DWI more than seven years ago, they will be charged with a Level I DWI. The exception is if the defendant is charged with a third DWI within 10 years.
Loss of Driving Privileges
Typically, driver’s license suspension periods are:
- First-time DWI conviction: One-year driver’s license revocation.
- Second DWI conviction: Four-year driver’s license revocation, if convicted within three years of a prior DWI.
- Third DWI conviction: Permanent driver’s license revocation if one of the prior DWIs occurred within the past five years.
- Fourth DWI conviction: Permanent driver’s license revocation.
- Refusal of chemical analysis: One-year driver’s license revocation.
Driving Record and Drunk Driving Offenses
North Carolina considers an offender to be engaged in drunk driving if the person drives with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above. A person will have their driver’s license revoked immediately for 30 days if they:
- Are charged with a DWI and refuse to take an Intoxilyzer test to determine their BAC.
- Have a BAC of 0.08 percent or more.
- Have a BAC of 0.04 percent if driving a commercial motor vehicle.
- Are under age 21 and have a BAC of 0.04 percent or higher.
Level I and II DWI drivers, impaired drivers transporting young children, and impaired drivers who injured someone in a crash must complete a substance abuse assessment. They are required to undergo any recommended treatment to get their driver’s license restored after the revocation period.
DWIs and Commercial Driver's Licenses
For a driver of a commercial motor vehicle, a first DWI conviction results in a 10-day disqualification to operate a commercial motor vehicle. A second or subsequent conviction revokes the individual’s driver’s license to operate any vehicle.
A driver of a school bus, school activity bus or child care vehicle will see their driver’s license revoked for a first offense DWI. There is a zero tolerance rule for these types of drivers.
Ignition Interlock Device (IID)
A judge may order an individual convicted of a DWI to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle if they were:
- Driving with a BAC of 0.15 percent or more.
- Convicted of another DWI within seven years of the prior DWI.
- Sentenced pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes 20-179(f3), which concerns sentencing for an aggravated Level I punishment. This type of punishment involves a term of imprisonment between one year and three years and a minimum fine up to $10,000.
Individuals who are driving a vehicle with an IID installed may not drive with a BAC of 0.02 percent or greater. The IID shall remain on the vehicle for:
- One year from the date of the restoration if the original revocation period was one year.
- Three years from the date of restoration if the original revocation period was four years.
- Seven years from the date of restoration if the original revocation was permanent.
Expunctions for DWIs in North Carolina
An individual can apply for an expunction, or expungement, to remove a criminal conviction from their record. The expunction will also seal or destroy the state’s records of the arrest, charge and/or DWI conviction. A person should file a petition for expunction with the clerk of court in the county where they were charged or convicted.
There is generally a $175 filing fee for expunction. A person who cannot afford to pay the fee should file the form for a petition to file as an indigent.
Inadmissibility for DWI Expungement
A DWI typically falls into the category of a nonviolent misdemeanor, but generally are excluded from misdemeanors eligible for expunction. The exception is where the defendant’s case was dismissed or the court found them not guilty.
An expunction can take several months, depending on the time required for criminal record checks and to schedule a hearing. A person denied an expunction can appeal the court’s decision.
- North Carolina Department of Public Safety: Driving While Impaired
- North Carolina Judicial Branch: Expunctions
- North Carolina General Statutes: Section 20-179 Sentencing Hearing After Conviction for Impaired Driving
- North Carolina General Statutes: Section 20-138.5 Habitual Impaired Driving
- North Carolina General Statutes: Section 20-17.8 Restoration of a License After Certain Driving While Impaired Convictions
- North Carolina Department of Transportation: Driving While Impaired
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.