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DWI Attorney

Below are 8 questions that people frequently ask me about DWI/DUI charges in North Carolina. After handling thousands of these cases, I feel this is a good place to start for those wanting to know more about NC DWI laws, procedures, and what their rights are.

1. When is the best time to hire an attorney after being charged with a DWI?

Hiring an attorney should be one of the first things someone thinks about after being charged with a DWI. In most cases, a person's driver's license is automatically suspended for at least 30 days after being arrested, and in most of those instances, a limited driving privilege can be requested after 10 days have passed. A capable attorney can ensure that the appropriate documents are presented to the court so that a person will have the ability to drive for the remaining 20 days and afterward.

It is also important to discuss the facts of a DWI cases while they are fresh in a person's mind. An impaired driving investigation can bring up dozens of different legal issues ranging from whether someone was properly stopped by an officer to whether the magistrate set an appropriate bond. The longer someone waits to relay what they remember to an attorney, the more chances there are that their recollection is inaccurate. That is why it is crucial to contact a Raleigh DWI attorney in a timely manner.

2. How much does a DWI cost?

For someone who has never been convicted of a DWI before, the costs associated with the process can be daunting. Having an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to guide someone through the process can be a valuable investment, but the fee for attorneys varies considerably and is not included below.

Here is a quick list of costs associated with DWI charges in North Carolina:

$100 fee for processing a pre-trial limited driving privilege

$100 fee to DMV for reissuing a driver's license after it was civilly revoked

$100-$200 fine, if convicted

$290 in court costs, if convicted

$480 in supervision fees, if the judge sentences someone to supervised probation

$250 in community service fees

$100 for the cost of a substance abuse assessment

$160 for the cost of treatment ordered after taking the substance abuse assessment

$100 for processing a post-trial limited driving privilege

$100 fee to DMV for reissuing a driver's license after it was revoked for the conviction

Roughly $2000 in increased insurance premiums

The above list adds up to over $3800 in fees and fines. A good attorney will inform the client of these costs upfront at the beginning of their representation. Although most of these fees and fines are mandatory, an attorney should make sure that none come as a surprise and try their best to keep them low where possible.

3. What are my rights if I am stopped for suspicion of driving while impaired?

The law in North Carolina only requires a minimal amount of communication between a person and an investigating officer, and none of that required contact need be verbal. A person must give an officer their license and registration if asked, but for no reason would someone need to answer any questions asked by the officer. The way a person answers certain questions can go a long way in the determination of their impairment. These usually include:

"Do you know why I stopped you?"

"Where are you coming from?"

"Have you had anything to drink?"

Not only can the answers to these be used by the officer to make his or her case, but the manner in which a person answers, slurred or delayed responses for example, give the officer a completely different set of facts to use in their investigation. If someone decides to not answer these or similar questions, their refusals to do so should be made as politely and succinctly as possible.

4. An officer has asked me to perform roadside sobriety tests. What are my rights?

A person can refuse to do any and all roadside tests. Generally, an officer who suspects someone of driving while impaired will ask them to perform at least four sobriety tests: an eye test, a walking test, a balance test, and a portable breathalyzer test. Other tests that are commonly requested include displaying finger dexterity, reciting a section of the alphabet, and counting backwards.

A person can politely refuse to take all of these tests, and doing so substantially shrinks the amount of evidence that officers generally rely on in determining a person's impairment. Keep in mind that refusing to answer questions and to attempt these tests does not bar an officer from coming to the conclusion that a driver is impaired. A number of other factors such as the nature of the driving, the appearance of the suspect, and the odor of alcohol or another drug can all play a factor in whether a person is arrested.

5. If I am arrested for DWI, can I still refuse to answer questions?

A person's right to refuse to answer questions from an investigating officer does not change at all after an arrest. Regardless of where a person is in this process, they can never be compelled to answer any questions.

Usually once the officer and suspect have arrived at the station after an arrest, the officer will read the suspect their Miranda rights. These rights are given to ensure a person that they cannot be forced to answer any questions and that they have the freedom to talk with an attorney if they so desire. After reading them, an officer will ask the suspect if they will waive those rights and answer a series of questions. If the suspect waives those rights, anything they say afterward can be used by the state to convict them later.

As part of the officer's investigation they are usually required to fill out a DWI Report. This report is a form that has sections designated to be filled in for different parts of that specific arrest. There is a section for explaining the reason for stopping the suspect's vehicle, for listing characteristics of the suspect appearance, for recording how the suspect performed on the roadside tests, and a huge section of questions to ask after the suspect waives their Miranda rights. These questions are specific and included inquiries about how much someone drank, when they started and finished drinking, when the last time they ate, what they ate, and a number of other questions whose answers can all be used in court. Waiving Miranda rights and answering these questions is almost never the correct decision.

6. If I am arrested for DWI, can I refuse to blow into the breathalyzer at the station?

Unlike the right to answer questions and to perform roadside tests, a person arrested for DWI is required to give a breath sample at the station. Refusal to do so will result in a suspension of that person's license for one year.

When a driver is issued a license in North Carolina, they are giving implied consent to submit to this test in the event that they are arrested for impaired driving. Being legally allowed to drive in the United States is considered a privilege, not a right, and part of a person being granted that privilege is their requirement to submit to this test when properly asked. With that said, a person being asked to give a breath sample on the station breathalyzer can refuse to do so, though it will result in the suspension of their license as noted above. It is possible in some cases to argue that the refusal was not done willfully, maybe a faulty breathalyzer machine was used or some health problem made it impossible for someone to give a sample. These examples may result in a person getting their license back, but they are very rare.

7. If I refuse to answer any questions, refuse to perform any roadside sobriety tests, and refuse to blow into the breathalyzer at the station, how can the State prove that I was driving while impaired?

Refusing to submit to the breathalyzer at the station usually does not stop the state from securing evidence of a person's alcohol consumption. If a person refuses this test, the officer can request a magistrate to issue a search warrant for that person's blood. Nurses are on staff at the station in the event that the warrant is issued, and this happens frequently. The nurse will draw two vials of blood from the person's arm for testing at CCBI. If the officer feels that this course of action is needed for the case, the person's license is still suspended for one year for refusing the breath test.

8. How do I know if I am hiring the right attorney?

DWI charges in North Carolina are no laughing matter. A DWI conviction impacts all aspects of a person's life, such as showing up on a background check and hindering someone's potential employment. Don't lose time, sleep, money, or potential job offers because your attorney failed to provide effective DWI defense.

Check out our article, "Hiring the Right Attorney," to learn what to look for in a DWI/DUI lawyer and how to choose the right attorney for you.

Here is the article referenced above:

Hiring the Right Attorney

Finding the right attorney for your case can be daunting. Every year the number of criminal attorneys practicing in North Carolina increases dramatically. The best way to find the right attorney is by asking your friends and family. Other possible sources are Google, your Facebook network, LinkedIn, and asking for a referral from an attorney that you trust.

Avoid the temptation to call an attorney that has sent you a letter in the mail. After a person is criminally charged, they are flooded with dozens of solicitations from attorneys who have gotten their name off of a subscription database. Throw these letters away immediately. These lawyers generally are charging the lowest fees and therefore must take a huge number of cases and handle them as quickly as possible to keep from going under. Do not put the fate of your freedom in the hands of those who would charge you a fee before even speaking to you about your case.

North Carolina is home to many experienced and talented criminal defense attorneys. They distinguish themselves not only in the courtroom but also with how they treat people who are seeking legal advice. Look for an attorney that is willing to talk to you at length about your case. Look for one who is experienced with your situation and with the court where your case will be handled. Find an attorney who looks at your case as a set of legal issues and can explain clearly why a case should be tried or ultimately plead.

Most importantly, never underestimate the value of an attorney's professional experience.

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