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The five levels of a DWI in North Carolina

Not every impaired driver causes trouble. In fact, many people who face DWI charges were not even visibly breaking the law at the time that law enforcement pulled them over. For example, an officer may pull someone over for a broken taillight or a recently expired license plate sticker before discovering the driver has been drinking.

The driver who was only guilty of driving while intoxicated may receive vastly different penalties from the impaired driver who ran a stop sign and struck a pedestrian. Consequently, North Carolina has set up five different levels of misdemeanor offenses regarding DWI. 

  • Level 5: This is the least serious of the five DWI convictions, and a judge may even decide to suspend the sentence. However, this driver is likely to pay a fine of no more than $200. The judge may order the driver to spend between 24 hours and 60 days in jail. Alternately, he or she may require 24 hours of community service or a suspended driver's license for 30 days.
  • Level 4: The penalties for a level four DWI are double that of level five: up to $500 fine; 48 hours to 120 days in jail; or either 48 hours of community service or 60 days without operating a vehicle.
  • Level 3: The fine for a level three misdemeanor may be as high as $1,000. The judge may order a jail sentence of between 72 hours and six months, or suspend that sentence and require either 72 hours of community service or a 90-day license suspension.
  • Level 2: While the judge has some discretion for determining penalties for higher levels, once a DWI conviction is a level two, the judge cannot waive the minimum sentence of seven days. The jail sentence could be as long as a year, and the fine could be as high as $2,000. 
  • Level 1: Again, the judge cannot waive the minimum sentence for this level of DWI. The conviction requires at least 30 days in jail, and it could last as long as two years. The fine may be up to $4,000. 

The penalties for levels one and two are higher because they involve more complex issues, such as previous DWI convictions, a child passenger in the vehicle, an injury accident or a revoked license. 

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