North Carolina takes driving while impaired (DWI) offenses very seriously. The penalties for a first time offender can be severe and are even more so for repeat offenders.
If you have a DWI from many years ago and are charged with another one, you could face harsh consequences. However, the State of North Carolina does have something called the “lookback” period, limiting the amount of time it can “look back” to take into account prior DWI offenses.
Here, we give an overview of the lookback period so you can understand how any prior DWI offenses might affect your future.
What is a DWI in North Carolina?
First, it is important to understand what is classified as a DWI in North Carolina. Under North Carolina G.S. § 20-138.1, a driver cannot drive a vehicle:
- while under the influence of an impairing substance;
- with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more; or
- with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance (e.g., heroin or opiates) in their blood.
DWIs are punished based on the severity of the crime and any aggravating or mitigating factors. There are five levels of misdemeanor DWI, as well as felony DWI for habitual offenders.
What is the DWI lookback period?
When a judge determines the sentencing for a DWI, he will consider any aggravating circumstances, one of which is whether the defendant has any prior DWI convictions. However, the judge will only look back for a certain period.
The lookback period means that if you have a DWI on your record from more than seven years ago (or ten, if you are a habitual offender), the judge will NOT consider that or take it into account when sentencing for the current DWI. The recent DWI will be considered your first DWI offense.
For misdemeanor DWIs, the lookback period is seven years. If you committed one DWI within the prior seven years, the second DWI would be considered a misdemeanor, but the sentencing and punishment will be harsher than if it were your first DWI.
To determine if your DWI will be sentenced as a felony habitual DWI (meaning three or more DWIs), the lookback period is ten years. If you committed two prior DWIs within ten years, a third would be considered a felony DWI.
Does the lookback period mean my DWIs from years ago are automatically expunged?
The lookback period is not the same as an expungement. While the judge will not consider DWIs committed before the lookback period during sentencing, those offenses will remain on your record. In certain cases, you may be able to get the prior convictions expunged, but will need the assistance of a criminal defense attorney to do so.