What is the DWI Lookback Period in North Carolina?

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “If I simply intend to plead guilty, why do I need a lawyer?”


Courts must consider a variety of factors, including previous DWI convictions on the defendant’s record, to choose an appropriate sentence and penalties.

If you have been charged with Driving While Impaired (DWI) in North Carolina, it is important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer to determine how previous DWIs on your record would affect the penalties upon a conviction.


eraser-Charlotte-Monroe-Lake-Norman-DWI-Charges-Criminal-defense-lawyer--300x225What is the DWI Lookback Period?

As its name implies, the lookback period refers to courts looking back a designated number of years at your driving record to check for previous DWI convictions. Basically, a lookback period is the amount of time a drunk driving offense remains on your record and can be used for sentencing purposes.

In North Carolina, the lookback period for misdemeanor DWIs is seven years. For felony habitual DWI, the lookback period is 10 years. It is worth mentioning that North Carolina’s lookback period also considers DWI convictions that took place in other states.

Here’s how the DWI lookback period works in North Carolina.

  • If you were arrested for a pending DWI charge in violation of C.G.S. § 20-138.1, the criminal court would look back seven or ten years to add up offenses and increase your penalties.
  • If a DWI arrest occurred within seven years of the first DWI conviction, it would be sentenced as a second offense; or
  • If you had three or more prior DWI convictions within the last 10 years, you would face a habitual impaired driving charge as defined in C.G.S. § 20-138.5.

In other words, if more than seven years passed from the date of the previous DWI conviction to the offense date of the current conviction, it will be sentenced as a first DWI offense in North Carolina.


Penalties for Driving While Impaired (DWI) in North Carolina

Penalties for DWI in North Carolina depend on the number of previous convictions, the number of aggravating factors, and many other factors.

  • Depending on the level of punishment, a first-time offender may face a jail sentence and fines, in addition to a license suspension for one year and a mandatory substance abuse assessment.
  • Second-time offenders face harsher penalties, including jail time, fines, driver’s license suspension of up to four years, substance abuse assessment, and installment of an ignition interlock device (IID) when the license is restored.
  • A third offense within 10 years is charged as a felony habitual DWI that carries such penalties as several years in prison, fines, permanent license suspension, substance abuse assessment, and even vehicle forfeiture.


Can You Expunge DWI Charges in North Carolina?

Under N.C.G.S. § 15A-146, you may file for expungement of DWI or other charges if the charges were dismissed or you were found not guilty.

Before 2015, North Carolinians were able to expunge non-violent misdemeanor and felony convictions if they did not commit other offenses, and all penalties and sentencing requirements were completed more than 15 years ago.

In 2015, the North Carolina legislature specifically excluded the expungement of DWI charges in the state. As a result, there is no way to get your DWI charges expunged from your record unless you were found not guilty or the charges were dismissed.

Speak with our North Carolina DWI defense lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to prepare a defense strategy for your particular situation. Call our lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, at (704) 370-2828 to evaluate your options or fill out our contact form. Now taking cases throughout North Carolina with offices in Uptown Charlotte, Mooresville and Monroe.







The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.








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