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When is a DWI in North Carolina a felony charge?

On Behalf of | Jun 7, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

People usually get arrested for driving while impaired (DWI) in one of two situations. The first is after a crash of some kind. A driver who has had too much to drink may blow through a stop sign and strike another vehicle. They could also wind up in a single-car crash, where they go over the curb and strike a mailbox.

However, many more people get arrested for DWI offenses through traffic enforcement efforts by the police. If an officer monitoring traffic sees you do something that looks like impaired driving, they will likely stop the vehicle and attempt to determine if the driver has broken the law.

In the second scenario, the DWI offense doesn’t technically harm anyone because there are no injuries or property damage involved, only the violation of a statute. You might assume that all DWI offenses are misdemeanor crimes, but the truth is that a DWI sometimes turns into a felony offense.

What increases the severity of a DWI charge?

Obviously, drivers can find themselves facing more serious charges if they cause a crash that hurts someone or causes property damage. A driver could even find themselves facing vehicular manslaughter charges.

However, even technical infractions that occur during traffic stops can result in felony charges. The main reason that a standard DWI becomes a felony involves repeat offenses. A driver who has at least three previous DWI charges on their record in the last seven years will likely face a felony DWI. That felony charge becomes a Habitual DWI felony offense for their fifth or subsequent offense. 

Despite misconceptions, you can fight a DWI

A surprising number of people think that it isn’t possible to fight a DWI charge that stems from a traffic stop. People can and do fight such charges frequently in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Defense tactics range from challenging the accuracy of the chemical tests performed to undermining the validity of the stop. Defending against a DWI charge protects you both from immediate consequences related to a conviction and the increased risk of more penalties or possibly felony charges if there is a subsequent arrest. Reviewing the circumstances that led to your DWI charges can give you a better idea about your defense options.