In North Carolina, getting a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge can be an extremely intimidating experience. The state has five levels of DWI misdemeanor charges, with Level V having the most minor penalties and Level I the highest. You could get a higher sentence level depending on certain aggravating factors, such as previous DWI convictions or driving with a minor passenger onboard.
But if there are five DWI misdemeanor charges, when does a DWI become a felony?
Factors for a DWI felony
If you get your fourth DWI charge in North Carolina within ten years of a prior conviction, the authorities will charge you with habitual DWI, a class F felony.
You can also get a felony DWI charge if your DWI led to an accident that caused severe injury or the death of a person. These criminal charges carry more severe penalties than a class F felony.
Penalties for a DWI felony
If you’re convicted of a DWI felony, you may face the following punishments:
- At least a year in prison: The court will sentence you to serve a mandatory prison sentence. Because it’s mandatory, you can’t have the sentence shortened or suspended.
- Permanent license revocation: Your license will be permanently canceled. You can only get another one if you meet strict requirements, such as not committing another offense within a two- or three-year period
- Vehicle forfeiture: Law enforcement may seize your vehicle if officers find you were driving while your license was revoked due to a previous offense.
- Heavy fines: You’ll still have to pay the appropriate fines relative to the level of your DWI charge. A Level I DWI charge carries a fine of up to $10,000.
The court may also require you to attend substance abuse counseling on top of your penalties. And should the state Division of Motor Vehicles restore your right to apply for a license, it might also require additional restrictions and conditions, such as having an ignition interlock device installed in your car for about five years.
A DWI felony is a serious crime that stays on your record for life. Getting convicted means guaranteed jail time and the permanent loss of your license and possibly your vehicle, on top of any fines and surcharges the court will impose on you. While serving jail time may be unavoidable, you might be able to negotiate for less harsh penalties and lower fines with the help of a lawyer. A legal professional with DWI law experience will represent you in court and defend your rights.