An arrest for driving while impaired can be a frightening and confusing experience. Christopher Shelburn is a Charlotte DWI DUI defense attorney who can help. DUI DWI defense is a cornerstone of our practice and we have the experience to formulate a strategy that works best for you and your situation. A knowledgeable DWI attorney can protect your legal rights and help you to maintain your driving privileges while guiding you through the Mecklenburg County Court system. Our goal is to achieve the best possible outcome for you.
In some cases, our clients need an aggressive defense to fight the charges in court. In other cases, the goal is to minimize punishments and costs our clients face. North Carolina DWI law is extremely complex but we will consult closely with you to ensure your case is handled in the manner that works to your best advantage. Our objective is to help you get back to a normal life and keep your driving privileges with minimal cost to your wallet and livelihood. Rest assured we will work hard to help you avoid jail time, license revocation, and high court fines.
Our fees are reasonable, with payment plans available.
DRIVING WHILE IMPAIRED
Changes to the DUI / DWI law have greatly increased the potential consequences of a conviction for drunk driving. In recent years, the legislature has pushed for stiffer penalties and higher conviction rates in North Carolina drunk driving cases. The public pressure on local courts and law enforcement officials has increased the need for experienced defense of DWI charges. It is more important than ever to have aggressive representation on your side.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET STOPPED FOR DRUNK DRIVING?
Getting stopped for drunk driving (commonly referred to as “DWI” – driving while intoxicated or “DUI” – driving under the influence) is a serious offense and can have different consequences depending upon where you live. All 50 states define driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at or above the prescribed threshold level as a crime. In North Carolina, as in most states, this level is 0.08 percent. However, North Carolina has enacted zero tolerance laws that lower that level for underage drivers and also imposes harsher penalties for those caught with levels of .15 or above.
WHAT IF I GET ARRESTED?
If the police officer believes you are impaired by drugs or alcohol, chances are you’ll be taken into custody and brought to a police station where you’ll be held until someone can pick you up, or until the next morning when you have sobered up. In addition, your license may be temporarily suspended and your vehicle may be impounded for a period of time after the incident. However, these penalties seldom apply for refusing to perform SFST’s (standardized field sobriety tests), which are the physical coordination tests an officer has you perform. YOU MAY REFUSE SFST’s.
WHAT ABOUT ROADSIDE TESTS?
If you are pulled over, and a police officer has reason to believe you may be impaired due to alcohol or some other substance, you will generally be required to take a sobriety test (blood, breath or urine) upon arrest to determine your BAC level. North Carolina implied consent laws require those arrested to submit to a BAC test or face license suspension for refusing to take the test. However, this ONLY applies to tests after arrest. Submission to breath tests at the scene via preliminary breath test (“PBT”) or “alcosensor” is not required. In North Carolina, willful refusal of breath test after arrest often carries a one-year license suspension even if you are found not guilty of DWI.
The first concern for many clients charged with DWI / DUI is license revocation. In North Carolina, your license is immediately suspended for 30 days after being arrested on a DUI / DWI charge. 10 days after arrest, you may file an application for a limited driving privilege that will last through the 30 day period. After 30 days, you can pay a reinstatement fee at the courthouse to get your license back in full. If you are convicted, your license will be suspended again, however, you may still qualify for a limited driving privilege. We can assist you in this confusing legal process of license revocation and reinstatement, and handle your application for a limited driving privilege.
GOING TO COURT
Generally, your first court date after arrest will be in administrative court. In Mecklenburg County, your attorney may appear on your behalf at these initial court dates without your presence. Later, your case will move to trial court where the arresting officer will be present and you must appear. In most cases, your final court date will be months from arrest.
IF YOU ARE FOUND GUILTY, THE JUDGE WILL:
impose fines and court costs
sentence you to jail or require community service work as an alternative
require participation in an alcohol treatment/education program
add points to your license (and your insurance will most likely increase)
require an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle in some circumstances
suspend or revoke your license
Probable Cause has been defined by the NC Courts as “a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by sufficiently strong circumstances to warrant a cautious man in believing the accused to be guilty.”
A judge has to determine whether the facts support the officer in believing the driver of being guilty of Driving While Impaired. If those facts cannot be established and the officer arrested the driver anyway, this is a violation of the driver’s Constitutional rights. After an unlawful arrest, all evidence gathered after the unlawful arrest should be excluded. This usually means that the case will be dismissed.
A Charlotte DWI/DUI Defense Attorney will review your case to determine whether your Constitutional rights have been compromised and fight to have your case thrown out.
WHAT DO I SAY IF I’M PULLED OVER FOR A DWI / DUI IN CHARLOTTE (MECKLENBURG) NORTH CAROLINA?
REMEMBER: You have the right to remain silent. You don’t have to answer any questions that the officer asks you about drinking or your other activities that evening. Any statements you make to the officer are sure to be used against you in court at a later time. Secondly, be polite. Erratic or emotional behavior is a sign of impairment that can be used against you in court. Additionally, the officer you are speaking with is a hard-working professional who deserves courteous responses.
One of the first areas a Charlotte DWI DUI defense attorney will look at is whether there was “Reasonable Suspicion” to pull you over in the first place. In North Carolina an officer can stop you if he witnesses criminal conduct or has reasonable suspicion that criminal conduct has occurred or is about to occur. In other words, if you break a traffic law the police can pull you over.
If you have not broken any laws, the officer may conduct a brief investigatory stop only if there are specific facts that reasonably justify him to “conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot.” If the officer does not have these types of facts then the stop is unconstitutional and any evidence gathered as a result should be excluded.
If the officer can’t justify the initial stop then the rest of the process is invalid, therefore, the NC DWI charge should be dismissed.
You are under no obligation to perform field sobriety tests.
Any mistakes you make on the tests (called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests) will be used against you in court. These tests can also be used to establish “Probable Cause” to arrest you.
Can I refuse the roadside alcohol test when I’m stopped for a Driving While Impaired (DWI) in North Carolina?
You are under no obligation to perform the roadside test for alcohol. You are free to refuse it just as you are free to refuse the other roadside tests. The result of that roadside alcohol test can be used against you in court to establish Probable Cause for arrest and to establish the presence of alcohol in your system; however the exact reading is not admissible. The officer may only testify as to a “positive” result, meaning some alcohol is present in your breath.
Can I refuse to “blow” at the station when I’m arrested for a North Carolina DWI/DUI?
You may refuse the breath test in North Carolina DWI arrests. However, the officer can still demand a blood test. An officer will frequently do that if there’s been an accident, or an injury. The second factor to note is that without an alcohol reading it is often much more difficult for the state to prove the case against you. With that in mind you should also know that the court can consider your refusal of the test as an adverse factor in determining your guilt.
The North Carolina DMV will suspend a driver’s license for one year for refusing the breath test. The driver will also not be eligible for a “limited driving privilege” to drive to and from work for the first six months of that suspension.