Drunken driving carries serious consequences

By Bellonora McCallum | Legal Corner

Happy Fourth of July from the Legal Corner! This weekend will involve a celebration of independence with good food, fireworks and quality time with family and friends.

For those of you who choose to travel to your special events this weekend, please be mindful of how much you drink. Generally, on major holidays, like the Fourth of July, law enforcement will increase the number of officers on duty patrolling the highways and roadways.

Most officers will be looking for drivers exceeding the posted speed limit, but quite a few will be setting up checkpoints and roadblocks in order to catch motorists driving under the influence.

Driving under the influence, also referred to as driving while impaired or DWI, is a criminal offense that involves a person driving a vehicle on any highway, street or public road while under the influence of an impairing substance or after drinking an amount of alcohol that results in an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

In North Carolina, a person is operating a vehicle when it is in motion or when it is parked with the engine running. This means a person doesn’t necessarily have to be caught driving the vehicle in order to be charged or found guilty of DUI. Additionally, by law, vehicles can also include bicycles and motorcycles.

In addition to stops for speeding and traffic violations, law enforcement agencies may also conduct checkpoints and roadblocks in order to identify drivers who are possibly driving under the influence. There are certain requirements that these agencies must follow prior to legally setting up a checkpoint or roadblock.

If a person operating a vehicle is stopped for a traffic violation or at a valid checkpoint or roadblock and the law enforcement officers determines that the driver has recently consumed alcohol or has as open container in the vehicle, he or she could be asked to submit to an alcohol screening test or Intoxylizer. If the driver refuses the Intoxylizer or if the screening test results are 0.08 or higher, the officer could have reasonable suspicion to investigate further.

Upon conviction of DWI, the driver could be sentenced based on six different levels. Three of those sentencing levels do not require the driver to receive a minimum active amount of jail time. However, the remaining three levels require the court to enter a judgment that includes a minimum active amount of jail time.

A driver’s DWI conviction level is based on any aggravating and grossly aggravating factors within the case. Some aggravating and grossly aggravating factors may include two or more prior DWI convictions, driving impaired with a minor in the vehicle, reckless or dangerous driving, driving with a revoked license and an alcohol screening test result higher than 0.08.

All DWI sentencing levels will require the driver to surrender his or her license for a period of time, a large monetary fine, and a substance abuse assessment.

It is always safer to have a designated driver whenever you are planning to consume alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine how much alcohol will impair a driver or cause a high alcohol screening test result.

Please remember that this information is only meant to inform our readers. This article does not include all of the detailed laws and regulations related to driving while impaired in North Carolina.

If you have any additional questions about the North Carolina laws for DWIs, past convictions or current charges, please consult an attorney. As always: Be informed. Be prepared.

Bellonora McCallum is an attorney at the McCallum Law Firm, PLLC, in Rockingham. Reach her at 910-730-4064 or visit www.mccallumlawfirm.com.