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How does Structured Sentencing for Drunk Driving Work in NC ?

In North Carolina, there is a unique sentencing structure for Drunk Driving cases. If a person pleads guilty or is found guilty by the Court for impaired driving, the court will look to a series of factors to determine the appropriate sentencing level. Sentencing levels range from Level 1 to Level 5, with each level prescribing its own sentencing standards. A Chart is provided below showing the sentencing guidelines for each Level.

The court will look to factors to determine which level of sentencing is appropriate. First, the court will look for the presence of Grossly Aggravating Factors. If there are Grossly Aggravating Factors found, the Court will impose either a Level 1 or Level 2 sentence. Grossly Aggravating Factors (GAFs) include:

  • A prior conviction for an offense involving impaired driving if:
  • The conviction occurred within seven years before the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced;
  • The conviction occurs after the date of the offense for which the defendant is presently being sentenced, but prior to or contemporaneously with the present sentencing; or
  • The conviction occurred in district court; the case was appealed to superior court; the appeal has been withdrawn, or the case has been remanded back to district court; and a new sentencing hearing has not been held pursuant to G.S. 20-38.7.
  • NOTE: Each prior conviction is a separate grossly aggravating factor.
  • Driving by the defendant at the time of the offense while his driver’s license was revoked under G.S. 20-28, and the revocation was an impaired driving revocation under G.S. 20-28.2(a).
  • Serious injury to another person caused by the defendant’s impaired driving at the time of the offense.
  • Driving by the defendant while (i) a child under the age of 18 years, (ii) a person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years, or (iii) a person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle was in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

If there are 2 or more Grossly Aggravating Factors, or if Factor (4) was found, the DUI will be sentenced as a Level 1. If there is only 1 GAF and it is not a Factor (4), then the Judge must impose Level 2 sentencing.

The Judge will also look to see if there are Aggravating and Mitigating Factors.

Aggravating Factors include:

  • Gross impairment of the defendant’s faculties while driving or an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more within a relevant time after the driving. For purposes of this subdivision, the results of a chemical analysis presented at trial or sentencing shall be sufficient to prove the person’s alcohol concentration, shall be conclusive, and shall not be subject to modification by any party, with or without approval by the court.
  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving.
  • Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.
  • Driving by the defendant while his driver’s license was revoked.
  • Two or more prior convictions of a motor vehicle offense not involving impaired driving for which at least three points are assigned under G.S. 20-16 or for which the convicted person’s license is subject to revocation, if the convictions occurred within five years of the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced, or one or more prior convictions of an offense involving impaired driving that occurred more than seven years before the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced.
  • Conviction under G.S. 20-141.5 of speeding by the defendant while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension.
  • Conviction under G.S. 20-141 of speeding by the defendant by at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit.
  • Passing a stopped school bus in violation of G.S. 20-217.
  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

Mitigating Factors include:

  1. 1. Slight impairment of the defendant’s faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and an alcohol concentration that did not exceed 0.09 at any relevant time after the driving.
  2. 2. Slight impairment of the defendant’s faculties, resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analysis having been available to the defendant.
  3. 3. Driving at the time of the offense that was safe and lawful except for the impairment of the defendant’s faculties.
  4. 4. A safe driving record, with the defendant’s having no conviction for any motor vehicle offense for which at least four points are assigned under G.S. 20-16 or for which the person’s license is subject to revocation within five years of the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced.
  5. 5. Impairment of the defendant’s faculties caused primarily by a lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition, and the amount of the drug taken was within the prescribed dosage.
  6. 6. The defendant’s voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment after he was charged with the impaired driving offense for which he is being sentenced, and, if recommended by the facility, his voluntary participation in the recommended treatment
  7. 6a. Completion of a substance abuse assessment, compliance with its recommendations, and simultaneously maintaining 60  days of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring system. The continuous alcohol monitoring system shall be of a type approved by the Division of Adult Correction of the Department of Public Safety.
  8. 7. Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.

The judge will then “weigh” or balance the Aggravating Factors against the Mitigating Factors. If the AFs outweigh the MFs, the judge will impose Level 3. If they AFs balance the MFs, the judge will impose Level 2. If the MFs outweigh the AFs, the judge will impose Level 1.

North Carolina General Statute §20-179 outlines the sentencing guidelines for each Level. The following chart illustrates that statute.

Structured Sentencing For Impaired Driving

Drunk Driving NC Sentencing

Sadly, there is no guarantee when it comes to structured sentencing. A judge is given a range, but ultimately has broad discretion in determining what level of sanctions is appropriate. A judge may impose community service hours or other sanctions for a drunk driving conviction.

As always, your Drunk Driving questions are best answered by speaking with an attorney, who can evaluate all of the information surrounding your particular situation. Every situation is unique, and thus generalized information is only a starting point, not a sure thing.

All content is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not intended, nor should it be considered legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by this post. To speak with a Drunk Driving Defense Lawyer, contact Dugan & Leger, PLLC. (910) 253-5400.