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Whether you're a resident of North Carolina, a tourist or are attending one of the state's colleges or universities, you probably enjoy its coastal beauty and southern charm. If you also enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage, you'll want to familiarize yourself with another North Carolina feature: strict drunk driving laws. In fact, the DWI laws in this state are some of the most stringent in the nation.  

If a cop pulls you over and asks you to step out of your car, you can bet he or she thinks you have committed some type of crime. If the officer asks you if you've been drinking or mentions that your vehicle was veering over the yellow line, you can also bet he or she thinks the crime you allegedly committed involves intoxication or drug impairment. A key to avoiding major legal problems in such situations is knowing and clearly understanding your rights, as well as implied consent laws.  

Your driver's license means you agree to these things      

Like most states, North Carolina operates under implied consent laws, meaning you agreed to comply with certain lawful requests when you signed your driver's license.

For instance, you consented to taking a Breathalyzer or other chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content level following a DWI arrest. If an officer asks you to take one of these tests, you should know the following things: 

  • By law, you may refuse to take a chemical test. 
  • Implied consent laws mean that, if you refuse, you will incur automatic administrative penalties for your refusal. In North Carolina, this includes a mandatory one-year driver's license suspension.
  • In certain situations, even if you refuse to take a chemical test, a law enforcement officer may be able to secure a warrant, which would legally obligate you to comply.  
  • A Breathalyzer test is different from a mobile breath test that police often use during traffic stops. Never assume that you have already complied because you took a breath test on the side of the road.  
  • DWI is a criminal charge. Implied consent automates administrative penalties. These are separate and unrelated processes. 
  • Prosecutors may use evidence that you refused to take a chemical test against you in court, although there are no legal implications for a refusal. Most prosecutors will aggressively try to use the fact that you refused against you at trial. 

Facing DWI charges in North Carolina may have long-lasting and far-reaching negative impact on your professional or student career, as well as your personal life. While it's easy to panic and think the worst, remaining calm and remembering that not all criminal charges lead to convictions may help you plan a strong defense and mitigate your circumstances. 

If you had a momentary lapse in judgement that landed you in jail, seek immediate legal advice. There may be more options than you initially realized that limit the damage and allow you to move forward.

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