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When a DWI (Driving While Impaired) is a Felony in North Carolina

If you have been charged with driving while impaired (DWI) in North Carolina, you are probably wondering what the potential consequences are. While the majority of DWIs are classified as misdemeanors, you will be charged with a felony offense if certain circumstances are met. 

Here, we review when a DWI is a felony in North Carolina, what the potential consequences are, and why you should contact an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney if you face a felony DWI charge.  

What Is a Felony DWI in North Carolina? 

While North Carolina takes all DWI offenses very seriously, repeat or habitual DWI offenders face the harshest DWI penalties in North Carolina. Section 20.-138.5 of the North Carolina General Statutes (N.C.G.S.) defines a felony DWI as “habitual impaired driving.” When the following elements are met, a DWI rises to the level of a felony:

  1. a person drives while impaired (as defined in N.C.G.S. 20-138.1), and
  2. a person has already been convicted of three or more offenses of impaired driving within ten years of the date of the new offense. 

If you have driven while impaired and meet the conditions above, you will likely be charged with a felony DWI and should consult a North Carolina criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to assist with your defense. 

What Is the Punishment for a Felony DWI in North Carolina?

Anyone convicted of a felony DWI in North Carolina will be classified as a Class F felony, which carries with it both mandatory prison time, loss of driving privileges and more consequences. Under the North Carolina statute, the punishment for this felony is:

  • at least one year of imprisonment;  
  • permanent loss of driver’s license; 
  • the vehicle that was driven at the time of the offense is subject to forfeiture by the state (subject to certain terms and conditions) – meaning, the state can seize and sell your vehicle; and 
  • mandatory substance abuse training (either while in prison or out on parole). 

In addition to the above, a habitual DWI conviction often includes additional consequences that you might not immediately foresee. The following potential issues could arise, depending on your circumstances: 

  • immigration issues, up to and including deportation;
  • loss of a professional license (such as a medical or law license); 
  • trouble maintaining child custody and/or visitation rights; and 
  • a permanent conviction on your record, as DWI convictions (generally) cannot be expunged in North Carolina.  

What Can You Do?

All DWI charges in North Carolina should be taken as seriously. However, in particular, felony or habitual DWI charges should especially be viewed in this light. The potential consequences of a DWI felony conviction could affect not just your freedom, but your driving privileges, future job prospects and more. 

Experienced criminal defense attorney Jeremy Cotton has served hundreds of clients through Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Orange, Sampson, Lee, and Chatham Counties and is ready to meet with you to discuss your DWI charges. Give him a call or head to the main page to speak with a legal assistant 24 hours a day.

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