North Carolina DUI laws

North Carolina DUI laws

by Corie Lynn Rosen, December 2009

North Carolina's DUI laws are notably tough. The Tar Heel state may still be a tobacco friendly state;but, if you drink and drive in North Carolina, your vices just may land you in a whole lot of legal trouble. A statewide Highway Safety Program, known as "booze it and lose it," gives North Carolina law enforcement broad discretion to seek out, detain, and punish anyone who drinks and drives within state lines. "Booze it and lose it" is a public campaign that aims to increase driver discipline and to raise public awareness about drinking and driving-related deaths in the state.

With such a keen interest in the highway safety of its citizens, it is no surprise that North Carolina uses strict DUI laws to punish anyone caught drinking and driving. A person arrested for DUI will be subject to prosecution on two theories of criminal liability. The first of these is a per se theory. Under the per se rules, evidence of blood alcohol content, or BAC, is usually the most important piece of evidence. The judge may find anyone whose blood or breath shows an alcohol level above the legal limit guilty of impairment per se.

As in most other states, North Carolina uses .08% blood alcohol as the legal limit for adult drivers. If the prosecution can establish evidence of BAC results at .08% or higher, no further proof is necessary to show that the accused is guilty. Although in some case the time of testing or the manner of testing may affect the results, the BAC tests are often dispositive under the per se analysis.

The second theory comes into play when the accused's BAC tests are inconclusive because of some flaw in the testing method or when the BAC tests show a blood alcohol level below the legal limit. In these situations, the prosecution may proceed on a traditional "driving under the influence theory." In North Carolina the standard for driving under the influence is "appreciable impairment." If the prosecution can show that the accused's driving ability was appreciably impaired by drugs or alcohol, then the results of the BAC tests are not necessary to obtain a conviction. Under the traditional, or "appreciable impairment theory," proof of impairment may come from the arrestee's behavior at the time of the arrest. Things like driving pattern, speech pattern, overall appearance, and performance on field sobriety tests may be used as evidence.

The two possible theories of criminal liability are tough standards in North Carolina, but they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the state's overall approach to DUI legislation. The state boasts what is possibly the toughest open container law in the country, prohibiting open containers not just in vehicles, but also in any public area where vehicles may be found. While this rule probably upsets many tailgate-hopefuls during football season, it is strictly enforced across the state.

In addition, anyone who has been convicted of a DUI in North Carolina faces some of the toughest monitoring and second offense laws in the country. If you are convicted of a first offense, the legal limit for your blood alcohol level drops to .04%. After a second offense the level drops to .00%, which essentially creates a zero-tolerance policy for second-offenders. In addition to the criminal prosecution, which may result in fines, jail time, or community service requirements, a first time offender can expect to be required to place an ignition interlock device in all cars registered in his name and to have his license suspended for 30 days to a year, depending on the specific facts of the case.