Normally, a DWI in North Carolina is a misdemeanor. In most cases, they result in a fine, community service, potential jail time, insurance premium increases, and loss of driving privileges. While this is bad enough, it can get much worse. Since there are several ways you can be face a felony, we explain further. First of all, a DWI is a felony if you cause serious injury or death while impaired. In addition, a habitual DWI is also a felony. As you would expect, these two charges make your DWI much more serious, and are much harsher than the penalties for ordinary misdemeanor DWI.
Felony Death or Serious Injury by Vehicle
Felony Death by Vehicle is a felony that you should take very seriously. If you are driving a vehicle (or commercial motor vehicle) while impaired and cause an accident in which another person is killed, you can be charged with Felony Death by Vehicle. If you are driving a vehicle (or commercial motor vehicle) while impaired and cause an accident in which another person is seriously injured, you can be charged with Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle.
Clearly, your impairment must be the proximate cause of the fatality or serious injury. Additionally, if you have been convicted of DWI within the past 7 years, then you are facing an aggravated felony. As a side note, if you cause the death of a person by violating a traffic law other than DWI laws, you can be charged with Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. Felony Serious Injury by Motor Vehicle is a Class F Felony, while Aggravated Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle is a Class E Felony. Felony Death by Vehicle, and Aggravated Felony Death by Vehicle are Class D felonies. Misdemeanor Death by Motor Vehicle is a Level A1 Misdemeanor.
Habitual DWI is charged when a person violates the impaired driving statute, N.C.G.S. 20-38, and has been convicted of 3 or more offenses involving impaired driving within the past 10 years.
The convictions which are considered offenses involving impaired driving include:
- Impaired Driving under N.C.G.S. 20-138.1
- Habitual Impaired Driving under N.C.G.S. 20-138.5
- Impaired Driving in a Commercial Vehicle under N.C.G.S. 20- 138.2
- Death or Serious Injury by Vehicle under N.C.G.S. 20-141.4 based on impaired driving
- Murder under N.C.G.S. 14-17 based on Impaired Driving
- Substantially Similar Violations of Statutes in Other Jurisdictions
If the person is convicted, they are guilty of a felony, and will spend at least one year in jail, have their licensing privileges permanently suspended, and be required to undergo a substance abuse assessment. This DWI charge is on different level than most other DWIs. Many are shocked that you cannot get charged with this until your fourth impaired driving offense, and frankly, it is shocking, given the legislature’s normal strictness on DWI. One would expect the General Assembly to come up with a “three strikes” rule, in which the person would be charged with Felony DWI for their third impaired driving offense.
Felonies can have a very negative effect for your record. They will stick with you for life, and every time that anyone does a background search on you, including potential employers, they will find that you are a felon. Being a felon can have an effect on other rights as well, such as the right to own a firearm. Currently, there are no options for expungements that may help you get this off of your record.