What kind of penalties do I face if I'm convicted of a DWI?
The exact penalties depend on the facts and circumstances of your case, but in general a conviction for Driving While Impaired will result in criminal penalties from the court as well as administrative penalties from the DMV.
Driving While Impaired is a misdemeanor in North Carolina, and the exact sentence imposed depends which of six levels of severity is applied by the court upon a conviction. If you receive a “level 5” sentence, the least serious, a court in Jacksonville would typically impose a 60 day suspended jail sentence with a year of unsupervised probation. You would also be required to perform 24 hours of community service or 24 hours in jail and pay several hundred dollars in court costs and fines. If convicted and sentenced at the most severe end of the scale, Aggravated Level 1 (or “level A1”), you must serve at least 4 months in jail as a condition of supervised probation and you could be looking at up to 3 years in prison.
In addition to the court sentence, any DWI conviction will result in the immediate suspension of your driving privilege in North Carolina for a minimum of one year from the conviction date. Convictions for second or subsequent DWI offenses normally involve a much longer period of license suspension.
What is the difference between a DWI and DUI in North Carolina?
There is no difference. DWI stands for “driving while impaired,” while DUI stands for “driving under the influence.” North Carolina has only one charge that applies to driving subject to an impairing substance (whether that means drunk driving, drugged driving or any other impaired driving) that is called DWI. Other states use different words to describe the same offense, calling it “DUI” or “OUI” (“operating under the influence”). In other words, it's the same crime, but people refer to it by different terms. Note that other states sometimes have multiple offenses for different categories of impaired driving and may use more than one of these labels, but in North Carolina, it all falls under the same DWI law.
What if I didn't blow a .08? Can I still be charged with and convicted of a DWI?
Absolutely. The “legal limit” in North Carolina is .08, so if the prosecution proves that your blood alcohol content (“BAC”) was above this threshold then they have proven that you were legally impaired. But North Carolina law also defines legal impairment as a situation in which your mental or physical abilities are noticeably affected by an impairing substance. So if your blood or breath test showed a BAC below .08 (or there is no record of your BAC either because you refused the test or none was ever done) the State can still try to show you were legally impaired by other evidence such as field sobriety tests. Fortunately, the opposite is also true, so if there is no breath or blood test or the test shows that your BAC was only slightly over the limit then it may still be possible to fight the case if the other evidence shows that your faculties were not showing signs of impairment.
Can't I just plead guilty to a less serious offense if I'm charged with a DWI in North Carolina?
Probably not except in very rare circumstances. North Carolina state law actually requires the prosecutors to go forward with a DWI prosecution without offering to reduce the charges to something less serious. In some limited cases, it may be possible to negotiate to have your charge reduced to a lesser offense such as “reckless driving” but this is quite unusual in Onslow and Duplin County. An attorney who has experience handling a large number of DWI charges in the area where you were charged and who knows the prosecutors and judges in that jurisdiction can give you a better opinion as to the chances of this happening.