A driving while impaired (DWI) charge is one of the most serious allegations a driver can face in North Carolina. The potential consequences of a DWI include hefty fines, community service hours, a suspended license, jail time, and even a felony charge, depending on the circumstances.
DWI cases have become unnecessarily complex in North Carolina. DWI law is constantly changing, with tougher statutes being passed almost every year and new appellate court decisions being handed down twice a month. Most attorneys will tell you that DWI trials are now more complicated than murder cases. There are many technicalities that can be challenged at every step of a DWI investigation – from the stop all the way up to your release from jail. It is important to have a skilled Raleigh DWI attorney by your side who thoroughly understands these issues and is always aware of the frequently changing DWI laws.
Many drivers with previously clean records find themselves in a downward spiral they can never recover from after a DWI conviction. Major ramifications can haunt a driver for years. Don’t let one mistake ruin the rest of your life. You need an attorney on your side that is intimately familiar with DWI law. Call Scharff Law Firm immediately following an arrest in Raleigh for your best chance at fighting a DWI.
Why Fight a DWI?
Each year, tens of thousands of people die in traffic crashes. Throughout the nation, alcohol is the major contributor to traffic fatalities. From 2003 to 2012, 4,102 people died in crashes involving a drunk driver in North Carolina. About one in three traffic fatalities throughout the U.S. involve a drunk driver. Driving while impaired is a deadly mistake with long lasting consequences. The consequences of DWI convictions vary state by state but almost always involve fines and a jail sentence. There are many reasons to fight a DWI – not the least of which is to keep your clean driving record.
North Carolina DWI penalties mean business. Based on your driving record, driver’s license type, and level of punishment, the penalties you face can be enormous. A DWI could mean draining your savings account to pay for costs, serving jail time, and losing your job because you can’t drive. In many cases, a DWI can lead to consequences that follow you for the rest of your life, threatening your future and making it difficult to secure a job.
Although it’s not a good idea, it is not illegal to drink and drive in North Carolina. Just because you are arrested for DWI does not mean that you are guilty. To be illegal, a person must consume a sufficient amount of alcohol to lose the normal control of their mental and/or physical faculties. If you believe there are some issues with your DWI charge and you don’t want a DWI conviction on your record, contact an experienced DWI attorney and fight back – even if you’re unsure.
When fighting a driving while impaired charge in North Carolina, you are innocent until proven guilty. For the government to secure a DWI conviction, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving while impaired. If there is even an inkling of a reasonable doubt, the court will adjudicate you. The government must also show that all evidence was obtained lawfully; consistent with North Carolina laws, the North Carolina Constitution, and the Constitution of the United States. Any issues with unlawfully obtained evidence can be raised during a pretrial motion to suppress, resulting in the dismissal of your case. With the right DWI attorney by your side, you can navigate complex laws and maximize your chances of having a case dismissed. At Scharff Law Firm, our experienced DWI attorneys will help you through every step of your case, including preparing a defense.
Trial Attorneys Jesse Scharff and Reba Scharff at Scharff Law Firm does not have the habit of automatically recommending a guilty plea. While guilty pleas can move faster through court systems, they can have permanent consequences and harsh penalties. Instead, we’ll work with you to execute a strong defense strategy – often circumventing BAC level evidence completely. So even if your BAC is double digits, you still have a chance. Breath test results are routinely defeated and this does not make you guilty just because a machine said so. There are several common DWI defenses that may be appropriate to use in court depending on the situation surrounding your arrest:
- Illegal stop of a vehicle or individual. Unless an officer has a reason to believe a driver broke a traffic or other law (“reasonable suspicion”), he or she cannot pull a vehicle over. The officer must be able to articulate a reasonable explanation for stopping the person or vehicle.
- Inaccurate field sobriety tests. A common defense that can potentially lead to the courts throwing out evidence of a DWI obtained in the field is that the tests were inaccurate. The results of many tests police officers perform, such as the walk-and-turn test, do not necessarily reflect the driver’s level of intoxication. Physical issues such as injuries, being overweight, or being past a certain age, can lead to “failing” these field tests. A good attorney can raise doubt as to the validity of these tests.
- Invalid or non-standardized field tests. Some of the ways in which an officer determines sobriety are not standardized or valid methods for testing for DWI. Examples of field tests that an attorney can raise doubt on are the finger-to-nose test, saying the alphabet or counting backwards. Even breathalyzer tests aren’t 100% accurate, leaving margins of error. If a breath test is the only evidence against you, you might be able to raise reasonable doubt as to your level of impairment.
- Improper seizure. If an officer failed to abide by legal procedures during an arrest, the evidence from the traffic stop may be inadmissible. If the officer did not have probable cause to detain you, for example, or failed to read your Miranda rights, the courts may suppress the evidence against you leading to a dismissal of your case.
- Misleading officer observations. In most DWI cases, the arresting officer’s personal observations and impressions of the driver at the time of the arrest serve as important incriminating evidence. If, for example, the officer reports that you were weaving, ran a red light, or had slurred speech, it can present significant evidence against you. A good attorney may be able to challenge the officer’s observations or present evidence to the contrary, knocking a hole in the prosecution’s case.
- Contrary evidence from bystanders. If there were any witnesses present at the time of your arrest, such as passengers in the vehicle or bystanders, they may be able to testify on your behalf. For example, a witness could testify that you didn’t drink before driving, appeared sober at the time of arrest, or committed a traffic violation for another reason, such as texting and driving.
- Other evidence that explains your actions/behaviors. In some cases, an appropriate defense to DWI can be that there are other reasons you looked, acted, or sounded impaired on the day of your arrest. For example, a knee injury could have made you stumble during a field test, lack of sleep could account for bloodshot eyes or slurred speech, and cold or rainy weather could explain why you performed poorly.
At Scharff Law Firm, we have what it takes to prepare a solid defense for accused DWI drivers when applicable. If we believe that it is in your best interest to plead guilty, we can help minimize the penalties you will face.
A DWI trial in North Carolina can be daunting without the help of a skilled attorney. Knowing what to expect during the court process can help the accused feel more confident and in control of his or her future – no matter what that looks like. Here’s a basic outline of what to expect during a DWI trial in Raleigh:
- Work closely with your attorney to prepare a strategy. First, you and your North Carolina DWI lawyer will meet to go over the details of your arrest, the potential evidence the prosecution has against you, and your next steps. Your attorney may advise you to plead guilty to the charges or may be able to prepare a case in your defense. The right attorney will work in your best interest and take the best route available.
- Gather expert witnesses. The most important element in a DWI case is the proof of intoxication or impairment against the accused. You may be able to hire expert witnesses, such as a toxicologist with expertise regarding BAC levels or the drug found in your system, to testify in your defense. The prosecution will likely have its own expert witnesses, such as law enforcement officers specializing in DWI laws.
- Interview eye witnesses. If your lawyer believes it’s wise to involve other witnesses in your arrest, such as a passenger in your vehicle or a bystander, he or she will interview the witness, gather strong rebuttal evidence. Credible witnesses are typically not friends nor family members and can be difficult to find in a DWI case. However, in the event that there is a credible witness who can refute evidence against you, it’s wise to include him or her during the trial.
- File motions to suppress evidence. Your attorney will investigate your arrest and discover if the officer illegally obtained evidence. If any evidence against you is inadmissible for this reason, your attorney can file a motion to suppress evidence in a special pretrial hearing. If a judge allows the motion, the prosecution cannot use said evidence during the trial and may lead to an outright dismissal of your case.
- Give your testimony. When the trial begins, you (the accused) will be able to testify in front of the judge and possibly a jury. Your attorney will advise whether you should testify and can help you understand the benefits or ramifications of that decision. In many cases, the accused is the only witness who can contradict an officer’s story. You also have the right to refuse to take the stand. Your DWI lawyer will help you do what’s in your best interest.
- Answer questions during cross-examination. The prosecution will cross-examine you after you give your testimony. This will involve questions from the prosecution about details of your story. Your attorney will give you advice specific to your case and help you successfully navigate cross-examination.
- Present witnesses. After your testimony and cross-examination by the prosecution, it will be time to present any witnesses who will testify on your behalf. They will give their testimonies similar to the way you did and also face cross-examination by the prosecution.
- Closing arguments. Both sides of the trial will have the opportunity to present closing arguments to the judge (and jurors, if applicable). Your closing argument will wrap up the trial and give one last statement as to why the judge/jury should rule a certain way. An attorney will consider how the evidence played out in court and develop the strongest argument to persuade the judge to find you not guilty.
- Deliberation. The judge will consider relevant portions of the DWI statutes that apply in your case to determine your guilt. The judge will then announce the verdict and issue a sentence.
- Verdict. The judge will return a guilty or non-guilty verdict, determining your fate. It is possible to appeal the verdict of a DWI case in North Carolina if your attorney believes this is in your best interest. Appealing a guilty DWI verdict requires another trial in front of a jury in Superior Court.
The accused will undergo a trial with a jury in North Carolina only if you lose at your first trial and have to appeal to the Superior Court. Your first trial will be with the District Court and will only include a judge. During a Superior Court trial, a jury of your peers will hear your case. Your lawyer may or may not advise you to provide testimony during a Superior Court hearing. Again, the jury will read portions of the DWI statutes that apply in your case to determine your guilt. In a jury trial, the jurors will go through a deliberation period to determine a verdict. If the jurors cannot agree on a verdict, the judge will order another trial before an entirely new jury. Once in agreement, the jury will announce the verdict and the judge will issue a sentence.
In North Carolina, G.S. 20-179 sets forth six levels of punishment for DWI offenses committed December 1, 2011, or later. These levels of punishment are determined by the presence of aggravating factors, grossly aggravating factors, and mitigating factors. These factors include:
Grossly Aggravating Factors:
- A prior conviction involving impaired driving within 7 years of date of offense.
- Driving while license revoked for an impaired driving revocation.
- Serious injury to another person caused by defendant’s impaired driving.
- Driving while a child, person with the mental capacity of a child, or disabled person was in the vehicle.
- Gross impairment or a BAC of 0.15 or more.
- Especially reckless or dangerous driving.
- Negligent driving leading to a reportable accident.
- Driver’s license was revoked.
- A specified conviction record of driving history.
- Speeding while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension.
- Speeding by at least 30 mph over the legal limit.
- Passing a stopped school bus.
- Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.
- Alcohol concentration did not exceed 0.09 and impairment solely from alcohol.
- Slight impairment of the defendant’s faculties with no chemical analysis available.
- Driving at the time of the offense was otherwise safe and lawful.
- A safe driving record.
- Impairment caused by a lawfully prescribed drug taken within the prescribed dosage.
- Voluntary submission to a substance abuse assessment and treatment.
- Completion of substance abuse assessment, compliance with recommendations, and 60 days of Continuous Alcohol Monitoring.
- Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.