DUI: Driving Under the Influence

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According to the NC Dept of Justice, North Carolina Police Officers made over 49,000 arrests for Driving While Intoxicated in 2012.[1] 1 out of every 10 arrests that year was for a DWI! And 2012 was not an exception. Every year, tens of thousands of people are charged with drunk driving in North Carolina; and every year the law gets stricter and the punishment more severe.

These staggering numbers don’t even show the effect of NC’s push towards reducing drunk driving. With heavy fines, lost wages, the loss of licenses, and a serious impact on one’s future, DWI convictions come with substantial repercussions.

As DUI Lawyers, the attorneys at Dugan & Leger get questions all the time about Drunk Driving offenses. The following is a list of some of these questions and some information about Drunk Driving defense.

If you or someone you know has been arrested for an impaired driving offense, do not wait! Contact us now to speak with a DUI Defense Attorney!

Commonly Asked Drunk Driving Questions and Answers

Do I need to take the Drunk Driving Tests?

Perhaps the most common question we’re asked is: What should I do if pulled over for drunk driving? Many people want to know if they have to take the sobriety tests or provide a breathalyzer sample. The simple answer is NO!

You have the constitutional right to refuse the drunk driving tests. A refusal does come with its own legal issues, and you will most likely lose your license for up to one year for refusing to take the tests. Your refusal may even be used against you in court. However, the real question is which is better: a refusal and less evidence to be used against you in court or providing incriminating evidence that may be used to convict you of drunk driving?

Below, you will find much more information about the drunk driving laws, the tests used by law enforcement officers (LEO) and the costs and punishments of drunk driving in North Carolina. Please note these answers are provided for informational purposes only, and you should not rely on them as legal advice.

What is a DUI?

North Carolina law criminalizes drunk driving under the impaired driving statute, NC General Statute § 20 – 138.1. Commonly referred to as Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Impaired (DWI), North Carolina recognizes three ways a person may be found guilty of drunk driving. A person will be charged with Drunk Driving if either:

  • A person drives “while under the influence of an impairing substance”
  • A person drives “with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more;” or
  • A Person drives “with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance . . . in his/her blood or urine.”

There are several intricate parts of an impaired driving offense, and it is the STATES’ burden to prove each and every single element! Knowing how the State does this will help you be prepared.

How does someone get a DUI?

As stated above, an impaired driving offense requires a person to be driving. Police Offices in North Carolina make nearly all DUI arrests at either Checkpoints or Traffic Stops.

What is a Checkpoint?

North Carolina Law allows a law enforcement agency to do vehicle checkpoints. A checkpoint is a roadblock where motorists on a particular road are stopped, questioned, and then either detained for more information or allowed to proceed. Generally, checkpoints are designated as either License Checks or DUI Checks. Law Enforcement Agencies must follow a series of rules, which vary based on the type or purpose of the road block.

An experienced DUI Lawyer may be able to have a DUI arrest dismissed if the Law Enforcement Agency did not follow the rules precisely.

Where else are DUI arrests made?

Traffic Stops are also a major source of DUI arrests in North Carolina. In 2012, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol alone made over 804,000 traffic stops, issuing nearly 600,000 citations! [3] Both NC and US Federal Courts have issued many rules a law enforcement officer must follow in making a traffic stop. Again, Drunk Driving Lawyers may get a DUI dismissed if the law enforcement agency violated the driver’s Constitutional rights before or during the traffic stop.

What happens after I’m stopped for Drunk Driving?

Once a law enforcement officer has stopped a driver, he or she begins looking for signs of the driver being impaired. These signs include “an odor of alcohol,” blood-shot or glassy eyes, disheveled look, and slurred speech. There are several problems with these signs. A police officer likely has never met the driver before, and doesn’t know his or normal appearance or speech pattern. Likewise, several medical conditions or even the lack of sleep can cause these “signs.” A good DWI lawyer will know the weakness of the Officer’s observations to help defend against the impaired driving charge.

Once an officer suspects impairment, the officer will then direct the driver to undergo a series of tests. A police officer will usually begin by asking the driver to submit to an initial breath test.

What is a Portable Breath Test?

The Portable Breath Test, or PBT is a preliminary breath analysis test used to determine the presence of alcohol. The LEO will ask the driver to provide a breath sample by “blowing” into a handheld machine which will analyze the person’s breath. The machine will then inform the LEO to the presence of alcohol. This test does not tell a police officer if a driver is drunk, nor does it provide a BAC or Blood Alcohol Concentration reading. The machine simply gives the LEO the ability to seek more information to use against you in court.

What are Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)?

Field Sobriety Tests, or FSTs are a series of physical and mental tests used by law enforcement officers to determine whether a person is impaired by drugs or alcohol. The LEO is taught these tests at the Police Academy. There are many different tests a LEO will use.

Some of these tests have ZERO scientific validation,  such as “recite the alphabet backwards” test. A knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney will fight the admission of the results of these tests.

However, some of these tests were designed by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA conducted “scientific studies” on several testing methods, and declared the tests as scientifically valid. Many courts will allow testimony about the results of these tests. The NHTSA approved three “standardized field sobriety tests” or SFSTs to determine if a person is intoxicated. These tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagumus (HGN), The Walk and Turn Test, and the One-Leg Stand test.  The NHTSA publishes a great deal of information about these specific tests on their website, which can be found HERE.

Generally, each test will have a series of “Cues” or possible signs of impairment that a LEO will look for during the test. The number of “cues” present is supposed to correlate to a certain BAC; with the greater number of “cues” present indicating a greater BAC. However, these tests are inherently flawed, as numerous factors can influence the performance on these tests. Again, an experienced DWI lawyer will know how to exploit the weaknesses of these tests to provide a stronger defense.

Following these tests, the Officer will either let the driver go or will arrest the driver for drunk driving. If the driver is arrested, the Officer will then ask the driver to take the breathalyzer test.

What is a breathalyzer?

A breathalyzer is a machine designed to read your breath alcohol concentration and covert than number into a BAC or blood alcohol concentration. A BAC above 0.08 is considered “drunk”; and driving with a BAC at or above this level may result in a drunk driving conviction. In North Carolina, the legislature has permitted LEO’s to use any breathalyzer approved by the NHTSA. The most common machines are the Intoxilizer 5000 and the EC/IR II.

How do Breathalyzers work?

Breathalyzers are complex machines that analyze “deep lung” alcohol to determine the concentration of ethyl alcohol in you blood. Different machines  utilize a variety of methods to read the level of alcohol in your breath. Both the Intoxilizer 5000 and the EC/IR II use infrared light sensors to determine the amount of alcohol present in a person’s breath. Generally speaking, alcohol molecules absorb infrared light. Breathalyzers use sensors to determine how much infrared light has been absorbed, and then calculates a blood alcohol concentration based on the absorption level.

How do you challenge a Breathalyzer reading?

There are many rules LEO’s must follow when using a breathalyzer machine. Breathalyzers are required to be calibrated using a controlled breath sample containing a certain alcohol concentration. Failure to follow these rules or to properly calibrate or maintain a breathalyzer may be grounds for suppressing results.

Sometimes, it is necessary to hire an expert to challenge the results of a breathalyzer test. An expert will fully understand the science behind the breathalyzer machines, and will explain the weaknesses and possible causes of a false reading.

How much does a DUI cost?

There are several variables in determining the true cost of a DUI conviction. On top of high fines, insurance premiums may increase as much as 400%. There are court costs, legal fees, and lost wages with fighting the charge. A person may lose their license or a professional license, which will have a significant impact on one’s earnings. Additionally, a DUI conviction will remain on a person’s criminal record for a very long time. Currently, there is a 15 year waiting period to expunge a misdemeanor conviction! A DUI conviction can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars in total costs.

How much does a DUI Lawyer charge?

Because every person’s case is different, there is no “set” amount that a lawyer may charge. However, at Dugan & Leger, we do not charge for DUI consultations. So give us a call at (910) 253-5400 to discuss your case and cost with a lawyer.


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