Charlotte and Ballantyne residents are known to enjoy the area’s many restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other hotspots. When your night out in Charlotte is over and you drive home, do you know if you are in compliance with North Carolina’s drunk driving laws? Mecklenburg County Police have been cracking down on drunk drivers over the past few years with traffic stops and checkpoints along busy roads.
“Drunk driving laws are often times a bit of a gray area for people on the road,” said Thomas D. Bumgardner, Ballantyne DWI Lawyer. “When you get into your car, it is important to protect yourself and others by knowing exactly what the law expects from you.”
In this week’s blog, we definitively outline North Carolina’s drunk driving laws.
What is the Legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Limit?
The minimum BAC for a drunk driving charge depends on your circumstances. For those under the age of 21, North Carolina operates under a zero tolerance policy. Because it is illegal for a person under this age to consume alcohol, the legal BAC limit is 0.04. This level eliminates a DWI from being given to those who may have alcohol in their system from cold medicines, but punishes those who have consumed alcoholic beverages.
For those over the age of 21, the minimum blood alcohol content limit is 0.08 percent. Restrictions are tighter for anyone operating a commercial vehicle; the legal limit is only 0.04 percent.
These levels are determined either by a breathalyzer test done on-site, or a blood test performed at the police station.
Do I Have to Perform Field Sobriety Tests or Take a Breathalyzer Test?
Field Sobriety Tests – A field sobriety test may include the heel-to-toe straight line walk, saying the ABC’s backwards and an the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. You are not legally obligated to perform any of these tests. The prosecutors may try to use this as evidence of guilt in court, but refusal to take the test proves nothing.
Breathalyzer Tests – Here’s where it gets a little more complicated. You have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test on-site. You will then be taken to the police station so they can perform the test to determine your BAC. If you refuse to take the test at the station, the state of North Carolina will automatically suspend your driver’s license for one year. If you still refuse, they will draw blood in order to obtain the evidence they need.
Carrying Alcohol in my Car – What are the Laws?
It is illegal to have an open container of alcohol if the driver has been drinking. Even if the driver has not been drinking, it gives the officer probable cause to perform a field sobriety check. It is illegal for a commercial vehicle to be carrying open or closed containers of alcohol in the drivers or passenger’s area.
How Severely Can I Be Punished?
Every case is different, but the severity of your punishment if you are found guilty is dependent upon your criminal history, your BAC at the time of arrest, whether anyone was hurt or killed by your actions and several other factors. There factors are used to place you in one of five categories.
Level Five – This is the most common type of DWI. Usually reserved for first offenders, level five carries a maximum $200 fine and a minimum of 24 hours of community service or jail time.
Level Four – This level is reserved for more severe first offenses or a repeat offense. Level four is punishable by a maximum $400 fine and a minimum of 48 hours of community service or jail time. A maximum of 120 days in jail can be imposed.
Level Three – This level is usually given to repeat offenders. A maximum fine of $1,000 may be imposed with a minimum of 72 hours of jail time or community service. A maximum of six months in prison may be given.
Level Two – This level is given to those who have two or more offenses. These offenses are often severe in nature. A minimum of seven days of jail time will be served, but a maximum of one year may be given . Community service will not be offered in place of jail time. This level carries a maximum fine of $2,000.
Level One – Reserved for repeat and severe offenders, this level carries the heaviest sentencing. A maximum of $4,000 can be fined. A minimum of 30 days in jail will be served, but that number can increase to a maximum of two years.
Always Call Your Ballantyne DWI Lawyer
If you are in the Charlotte area and have been charged with a DWI, hiring the right attorney could make all of the difference when fighting your charge or minimizing your sentence. Thomas D. Bumgardner is a Ballantyne DWI Lawyer with years of experience defending his clients against aggressive prosecutors. Call us at 704.887.4981 to schedule a free consultation – we look forward to discussing your case.