What’s The Difference Between a Misdemeanor DWI And a Felony DWI?

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “What steps should I be taking outside legal guidance to help my DWI case?”



Driving while impaired, DWI, is also known as drunk driving. Driving while impaired simply means operating a motor vehicle while you have a diminished or loss of capacity. Impairment is most often due to alcohol intoxication, but it may also include impairment due to illegal drugs or prescription medications. DWI is a serious offense and if found guilty, you could face numerous penalties that may harm you and your family for many years to come. If you were charged with DWI you will want to fight the charges with help from a qualified DWI attorney in North Carolina.


About DWI in North Carolina


DWI may be either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the specific circumstances of the situation. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the measurement used to determine intoxication or impairment due to alcohol. In North Carolina the legal limit for drinking and driving is 0.08% BAC. Those with a BAC of 0.08% or above can be charged with DWI. It is important to note that North Carolina has a zero tolerance law in place for those under the age of 21 and for commercial drivers including school bus drivers and child care drivers. This means that someone in one of those categories could be charged with DWI when they have any level of alcohol in their systems.


Levels of Misdemeanor DWI in North Carolina


North Carolina has five levels of misdemeanor DWI (driving while impaired). The levels are based on various factors such as the level of intoxication, repeat offenses, and others. Level V is the least severe and level I is the most severe and therefore has the highest degree of penalties associated with conviction. Penalties for misdemeanor DWI conviction in North Carolina are as follows:


  • Level V – Minimum of 24 hours in jail and up to 60 days. The offender may be sentenced to community service as well as suspension of driving privileges for 30 days. You may also have to pay a fine of up to $200.
  • Level IV – Carries a jail sentence of 48 hours to 120 days. You will also face a penalty of up to 48 hours of community service and lose your driver’s license for 60 days. The fines will be up to $500.
  • Level III – A Level III conviction carries a jail sentence of 72 hours to six months, community service of 72 hours, and a fine of $1,000. You will also have your driver’s license taken away for 90 days.
  • Level II – Consequences include a jail sentence of at least 7 days with a maximum of one year. The fine is $2,000. Your driver’s license will be revoked. You must complete a substance abuse assessment and comply with a treatment program in order to reinstate your license.
  • Level I – A level I conviction carries a jail sentence of at least 30 days and a maximum of two years. The fine will be up to $4,000. As with a level II conviction, you must complete an assessment and treatment program to regain driving privileges.


It is important to note that the judge in the case may suspend the minimum sentence in level 5, level VI, and level III convictions. However, the judge is not allowed to suspend the minimum sentence for level I and level II convictions, so you must spend time in jail.


Felony DWI in North Carolina


Felony DWI may apply to repeat or habitual offenders and in cases where there was a severe injury, property damage, or death as a result of driving while under the influence. You may be charged with felony DWI if you have had three prior DWI convictions in the past seven years. A felony DWI conviction requires a jail sentence of no less than one year and the judge cannot suspend or shorten that minimum requirement. As a condition of parole, you must attend a substance abuse program.


Law enforcement may seize a driver’s vehicle at the time of arrest in cases where the driver is a repeat DWI offender and is driving with a revoked license. The judge could order you to forfeit the vehicle and you will not be able to get it back.


DWI is a serious charge, so you will want to vigorously defend it in court. Count on our experienced legal team to assist you through the process and help you attain the best results possible. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC, at (704) 370-2828 for a free initial case evaluation.






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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