Most people associate driving while impaired (DWI) with alcohol. In reality, the law punishes driving under the influence of any “impairing substance,” and that includes non-alcoholic drugs. A drug DWI conviction could have lifelong consequences for you, your career, and your freedom. But an arrest does not necessarily mean you will be convicted.
The attorney you hire will make all the difference. You can count on Hancock Law Firm. We know the law, and we will zealously defend your rights and work for the best outcome in your case.
How North Carolina Charges DWIs
Under North Carolina General Statute (NCGS) §20-138.1, a person commits the offense of DWI if he or she drives on a highway, street, or public vehicular area:
- While under the influence of an impairing substance;
- If he or she has consumed alcohol and has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher; or
- With any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in the blood or urine
Anything that you put into your body which impairs your faculties could be considered an “impairing substance.” We often think of these as being illegal drugs, but prescription and over-the-counter medications could potentially impair you just the same.
Schedule I controlled substances are defined under NCGS §90-89. It is an exceptionally large list that includes such drugs as:
- Fentanyl derivatives
- Hallucinogenic substances
If the law enforcement officer who pulled you over suspects that you are under the influence of a non-alcoholic drug, an officer called a drug recognition expert (DRE) may be called to the scene. These are specially trained members of law enforcement who can determine whether a suspect is under the influence of a drug other than alcohol. This determination includes asking the suspect to submit to a special 12-step test.
Can I Refuse A DRE Drug Test?
You do have the legal right to refuse a DRE test for drugs. If you are asked to submit to one of these tests, you should politely but firmly decline. If you have already consented to a DRE and been given the test, it will be very difficult or impossible to have this evidence excluded in court. There are many problems with the DRE test that suggest it is not a reliable form of forensic science. Unfortunately, the North Carolina Rules of Evidence allow DREs to be admitted in court. When asked, it is better to refuse the DRE test altogether.
You may be arrested if the police officer suspects you of drug impairment while driving. Following your arrest, you may be asked to give a blood, urine, or other bodily substance test to prove the presence of drugs. Although you can legally refuse this test, doing so will almost always result in an automatic one year suspension of your driver’s license. This suspension is a civil penalty, not a criminal punishment, and is separate from the DWI charge. That means that even if you are ultimately acquitted of the charges, your one-year suspension will stay in effect. North Carolina has an implied consent law by which you agree to submit to these types of tests as a condition of having a driver’s license.
What Are The Penalties For A Drug DWI Conviction?
How you are punished for a drug DWI conviction in North Carolina will depend upon several factors:
- Whether anyone was injured or killed as a result of the DWI
- The likelihood that someone would be killed or injured as a result of the DWI
- Whether you were previously convicted of a DWI
- The presence of aggravating, grossly aggravating, or mitigating factors
North Carolina has five levels of penalties, ranging from 5 (the most lenient) to 1 (the most severe), depending upon those above factors. Further, your punishment will carry some form of the following:
- Fines and court costs
- Community service
- License suspension
- Substance abuse assessment
How Do I Challenge A Drug DWI Charge?
It is important to note that drug impairment is generally more difficult to prove than alcohol impairment. A breathalyzer test, used for alcohol, can reliably show that there is a certain amount of alcohol in your system at the time you were pulled over. Blood and urine tests may be used to prove the presence of non-alcoholic drugs in your system.
However, drugs can stay in your system for days or even weeks. This presents a challenge to the prosecution’s burden to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you were impaired by drugs at the time you were pulled over. And this opens the door for your attorney to challenge the state’s evidence against you.
Another potential defense involves the manner in which you were pulled over. Police need reasonable suspicion in order to stop you. This may include speeding, swerving, drifting in and out of lanes, failure to use a turn signal, and other erratic and potentially dangerous behavior. In the absence of this or other evidence, the police stop may fail this test.
Finally, you can possibly challenge the testimony of the law enforcement officer or expert witness. Expert witnesses include DRE officers and pharmaceutical experts (where the impairing substance is a prescribed medication). All witnesses have to abide by North Carolina Rules of Evidence, so having a skilled DWI defense attorney is critical.
Contact Our Carteret County Drug DWI Attorney
There’s too much at stake if you’re facing any kind of DWI charge, especially for drug use. Your future depends on hiring the right attorney with the experience and dedication it takes to fight for you. If you or a loved one have been arrested for a DWI, it is imperative that you retain legal representation right away. Give Hancock Law Firm a call, and find out how we can serve you today.