To determine the range of punishment you could face for DUI/DWI in North Carolina, the law refers to “mitigating factors”, “aggravating factors”, and “grossly aggravating factors” that are weighed against one another. What the law means by “mitigating factors”, “aggravating factors”, and “grossly aggravating factors” is the subject of this legal guide. Even if you think you are guilty of DUI/DWI and expect to be convicted or plead guilty, a qualified North Carolina lawyer may be able to present arguments on these factors to help you get the least punishment possible.

Grossly Aggravating Factors

The four factors below are considered “grossly aggravating factors” for North Carolina DWI punishment:

  1. A prior conviction or guilty plea for DWI 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    The conviction occurred in District Court, the case was appealed to Superior Court, the appeal has been withdrawn or the case has been remanded back to District Court and a new sentencing hearing has not been held pursuant to G.S. 20‑38.7.

  2. The DWI occurred while driving with a revoked license because of a prior DWI.

  3. Someone was seriously hurt as a result of the DWI.

  4. A minor child under 18 was in the car during the DWI.

Aggravating Factors

“Aggravating factors” are less serious than “grossly aggravating factors”, but can still increase the punishment for DWI considerably in North Carolina. The factors below are considered “aggravating factors” for North Carolina DWI punishment:

  1. Gross impairment or blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more.

  2. Especially reckless or dangerous driving.

  3. Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.

  4. Driving while license revoked, for any reason other than a prior DWI.

  5. Two or more prior convictions for a motor vehicle offense other than DWI 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 for DWI that occurred more than seven years before the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced.

  6. Conviction of speeding by the defendant while fleeing or attempting to elude arrest.

  7. Conviction of speeding by the defendant by at least 30 mph over the legal limit.

  8. Passing a stopped school bus.

  9. Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

Except for paragraph 5 that discusses prior convictions, the aggravating factor must have occurred during the same incident as the impaired driving offense in order to be considered for punishment.

Mitigating Factors

The factors below are considered “mitigating factors” for North Carolina DWI punishment, and have the potential to reduce the punishment for DWI:

  1. Slight impairment solely from alcohol, and blood alcohol concentration not more than 0.09.

  2. Slight impairment solely from alcohol, but no chemical analysis available.

  3. Driving was safe and lawful except for the impairment.

  4. A safe driving record, having no convictions for any motor vehicle offense for which at least four points are assigned within five years of the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced.

  5. Impairment 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. Voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment after being charged with the impaired driving offense for which he or she is being sentenced and, if recommended by the facility, voluntary participation in the recommended treatment.

  7. Completion of a substance abuse assessment, compliance with its recommendations, and maintaining 60 days of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) system. The CAM device must be approved by the Division of Adult Correction (DOC).

  8. Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.

If you are charged with a DUI/DWI in North Carolina, a qualified lawyer can help you understand the punishment you face by considering and investigating the “grossly aggravating factors”, “aggravating factors”, and “mitigating factors” that apply to your case. It is important to understand these factors and argue them even if you expect to plead guilty or be convicted, so you will the least punishment possible.

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