The legislature enacted several significant changes to DWI sentencing guidelines for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2011. These changes, known as Laura’s Law, can have a serious effect on defendants charged with driving under the influence in NC. We have previously discussed Changes in North Carolina Sentencing and Probation laws that affect you. Today, we turn our attention to changes in North Carolina laws that took effect for offenses committed after December 1, 2011.
NC DWI sentencing exists outside of the standard structured sentencing for other criminal offenses. When sentencing offenders, judges must consider grossly aggravating factors and aggravating and mitigating factors in determining the sentencing level, and therefore the punishment level, of offenders. Laura’s Law creates an Aggravated Level 1 Punishment for DWI and requires that a judge impose Aggravated Level 1 punishment when at least three grossly aggravating factors are present. It also made some changes to what qualifies as a grossly aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
The (New) List of Grossly Aggravating Factors for DWI in NC:
New Aggravated Level 1 Sentencing Guidelines:
- Minimum 12 months, Maximum 36 months active incarceration
- Maximum fine of $10,000
- Aggravated Level 1 sentences are not eligible for parole
- Post release supervision with CAM when release for up to the full remaining term of the maximum sentence
A prior conviction for driving under the influence within the past 7 years (the past 7 years measured from the date of prior conviction to the date of offense), a DWI conviction which occurred after the offense date but before or while the current DWI is being sentenced, the DWI occurred while the Defendant’s license was revoked for an impaired driving offense, a child under the age of 18 was in the vehicle at the time of the DWI, the driving caused an accident involving serious injury to another person.
Previously, a person with three of more grossly aggravating factors would get the same punishment as someone with two grossly aggravating factors. These offenders were previously sentenced as a Level 1 offender, received a prison sentence of 12-36 months, a fine of up to $4,000, a license revocation and would have to wear a Continuous Alcohol Monitoring bracelet for 60 days upon release (prohibiting alcohol consumption during this time). Laura’s Law also adds an extra mandatory $100 fee for all defendants convicted of DWI.
Under the new law, a high school or college age offender driving under the influence, who is substantially more likely to have friends under 18 than under 16 in the car with them, are much more likely to be sentenced as a Level 1 offender requiring a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail.
The legislature also made one other serious change to DWI sentencing with Laura’s Law. Under the old statute, having a passenger under the age of 16 would result in a finding of a grossly aggravating factor. The new law increases the age of the passenger to under 18, a passenger with the mental capacity of someone under the age of 18, or someone who is physically incapable from exiting a vehicle on their own. This particular grossly aggravating factors automatically results in at least a Level 1 offense sentence. This change could particularly hurt young DWI offenders.
If you have been charged with a DWI in Wilmington or the surrounding area, contact an experienced DWI defense attorney to get help now. An attorney may be able to help reduce the impact of this stressful time.