North Carolina’s Zero-Tolerance Policy on DWIs: A Breakdown

Trick question:

In North Carolina, what is the legal limit for alcohol consumption?

If you guessed .08, you’re correct.

Now, what is the legal limit for those under the age of 21?

Unless you guessed 0, then you’re wrong.

You may have heard talk of North Carolina’s “zero tolerance” policy for alcohol consumption – but if you’re like many other North Carolinians, you may not know what it means. Essentially, in North Carolina, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol – in any amount. This means that even a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .01 would mean possible criminal liability. If you’re driving, it can mean an arrest and a possible DWI charge.

If you’re under 21 and are caught with any trace of alcohol in your blood, you will likely be charged with a Class 2 Misdemeanor, a crime that brings penalties of up to 30 days of community punishment (like probation, restitution payments, substance abuse treatment, and community service) and a fine of up to $1,000.

If you’re under 21 and are caught for the second or third time with alcohol in your blood while driving, your penalties will be more severe: You may face community, intermediate, or active punishment for up to 45 days at the discretion of a judge.

What is Intermediate Punishment?

“Intermediate” punishment involves supervised probation, plus one of the following:

  • A stay at a residential substance abuse treatment program;
  • Electronic house arrest;
  • Participation in a day reporting center;
  • Special probation; or
  • A procedure in drug treatment court.

What is Active Punishment?

“Active” punishment refers to jail time. A sentence of fewer than 90 days is served in county jail, but a sentence of more than 90 days means a stay in a North Carolina State prison.

What Are Some Other Punishments I Might Face?

If you’re caught behind the wheel of a vehicle, your license will be automatically revoked for 30 days at the time of your arrest. If you’re convicted, you’ll lose it for a year. However, if you are over 18 and have no prior DWI convictions, you can appear in court and ask a judge to grant you limited driving privileges.

Keep in mind that even if you are a minor, a judge may still apply the sentencing framework used for adults – which means your penalties will be more severe.

Your criminal defense attorney can help you fight your charges and will work to try to reduce your sentence. Attorney Jeremy Cotten has served hundreds of satisfied clients through Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Orange, Sampson, Lee, and Chatham Counties and is ready to meet with you to discuss your case. Give him a call or click over to the main page to chat with a legal assistant.