Penalties for Multiple DWI Charges in North Carolina

If you’re facing more than one DWI charge, your defense will be much more complicated. North Carolina law provides little leeway for those with more than one DWI charge, so it is advisable to engage a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible to help you build your case.

In general, North Carolina’s DWI law prohibits driving or controlling a vehicle while:

  • Under the influence of an impairing substance
  • Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or more
  • Having any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in your blood or urine

DWI penalties are doled out on a “sliding scale” system, which includes five levels of misdemeanor DWIs: Level I is the most serious, and Level V is the least serious. The law deems prior DWI convictions as aggravating factors that will increase the charge’s seriousness.

The Penalties


The North Carolina Department of Transportation imposes “administrative” penalties that are separate from any other criminal penalties an offender may face if convicted in a North Carolina criminal court. The most common administrative penalty you may face is license revocation.

If you refuse to submit to a breath test or have a BAC of .08 percent or higher, you may face an immediate revocation for 30 days. If you are given the opportunity for a hearing, you may face an additional one-year revocation, even if you aren’t convicted. In these cases, the State may grant you limited driving privileges, but only after a mandatory six-month revocation period.

If you’re convicted of a second DWI within a three-year period, you can lose your license for four years. You may petition the court for limited driving privileges that allow you to commute to work during certain times. However, this privilege is not available if you’re sentenced at a Level I or Level II. You will need to submit to a court-ordered drug and alcohol assessment and treatment before your license is reinstated.

Repeat offenders also must install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicles while their licenses are suspended. The IID requires drivers to blow into a machine that detects the BAC before the car will start.

If you’re arrested for a second DWI while your license was revoked for a prior DWI charge, you may face immediate vehicle seizure at the time of your arrest. If you’re convicted, and a judge determines that you committed the offense while your license was revoked for a prior DWI, you can permanently lose your vehicle.


Most of the time, second DWIs are classified as Level I, II, or III misdemeanors, based on the presence of aggravating or mitigating factors. Prior DWIs are considered aggravating factors, and if you’re convicted of a second DWI within seven years of your first, you will be deemed a Level II offender at a minimum.

There are four types of penalties for multiple DWIs: Jail time, fines, probation, and substance abuse assessments.

  • Jail time: North Carolina law sets forth minimum and maximum jail sentences for DWIs, the minimum being 24 hours and the maximum, for a level I, being 30 days to two years.
  • Fines: Second DWIs generally carry fines ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, and as with jail time, are based on the offense’s level classification.
  • Probation: Occasionally, a judge will suspend a DWI sentence in favor of a probationary term. The conditions of probation may include jail time, community service, and participation in a drug and alcohol evaluation program.
  • Substance abuse assessment: Anyone charged with a DWI in North Carolina must complete a substance abuse assessment and comply with any treatment plans before regaining access to driving privileges.

Seeking Legal Representation

If you’re charged with a subsequent DWI in North Carolina, reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Jeremy Cotten is a passionate criminal defense attorney who has served hundreds of clients in Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Orange, Sampson, Lee, and Chatham Counties. Contact him for a consultation or click over to the main page to chat with a legal assistant.