By Shannon Page, Ludlum Law Firm Summer Intern

Most people associate a DWI with alcohol.  However, the applicable North Carolina DWI statute extends beyond alcohol to a surprising degree.

North Carolina’s impaired driving statute, § 20-138.1 provides that a person is guilty of the offense if he or she drives any vehicle upon any highway, street, or any public vehicular area within this State while under the influence of an impairing substance; or after having consumed sufficient alcohol that he has, at any relevant time after the driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-138.1 (West).

The general public is probably familiar with the terms up to this point.  However, the statute also provides that a person is guilty of driving while impaired if the results of a chemical analysis show that there is any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance, as listed in G.S. 90-89, or its metabolites in his blood or urine.  N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-138.1 (West).  Courts have held that the acts of driving while under the influence of an impairing substance, and of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent, are two separate, independent, and distinct ways by which one can commit the single offense of driving while impaired.  State v. Taylor, 165 N.C. App. 750, 600 S.E.2d 483 (2004).

What this means is that maybe you made a bad judgment call within the past 48 hours that could come back to haunt you – depending on how long the substance remains in your system.  Rough week at work, peer pressure at a party, or maybe you were feeling a little rebellious.  Regardless of the excuse, if you test positive for any Schedule I controlled substance according to G.S. 90-89 (including, but not limited to, opiates, opium derivatives, hallucinogenic substances, depressants affecting the central nervous system, and certain stimulants) you are in trouble.  Actual impairment is not an element of this offense.  The implied consent principle will rear its ugly head again to make you forever regret your experimentation with peyote a day before you actually get pulled.

The implied consent doctrine provides that any person in operation of a vehicle in North Carolina gives consent to a chemical analysis if charged with an implied consent offense.  And if you decide to refuse this chemical analysis, the result is mandatory revocation of your license for a year or more.  N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-16.2 (West).

Of course, there are mitigating and aggravating factors involved with the offense, including reckless or dangerous driving, prior convictions, evading apprehension, driving record, defendant’s voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment, and completion of a substance abuse assessment just to name a few.  Id. §§ 20-179(d)-(f).  There are six levels of punishment for this offense in North Carolina varying from a fine of $200-$10,000, imprisonment from 24 hours to nearly 5 years, and community service requirements.

It is is important to understand that NC has a zero tolerance per se drugged driving law enacted for Schedule I controlled substances and their metabolites.  This means that you do not have to be currently impaired while you are driving, but if a chemical analysis is ordered and common drugs such as heroin and ecstasy are found in your system, you could be in trouble. If you have a Duplin or Sampson County DWI charge contact Ludlum Law Firm today to discuss your options.  Consultations are free.

Overall, it is important to know that a DWI extends beyond that of the campaign slogan, “Booze it, or Lose it.”