Should I Represent Myself in a North Carolina DWI Case?

The legal and social consequences may be dire

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on June 27, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Bill Powers

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Charlotte attorney Bill Powers has handled cases involving charges of murder, medical negligence, and corporate wrongdoing. “But I’ve yet to find anything that really is as complicated as DWI charges,” he says. “It has become such an incredibly complicated system that I think it’s a tremendous mistake going by yourself.”

NC DWI Charges are Very Serious

The challenge of intersecting law, science, and technology is part of what has drew Powers to DWI. But what has kept him there for more than 20 years is defending people who face severe penalties.

“I represented a nurse one time who was stealing oxycontin from the emergency room because she had a real problem,” he explains. “She was pulled over for driving while impaired, and they found a bunch of the hospital medications in the car.

“So she was charged with basic larceny and felony possession of a serious controlled substance. Right? Guess what the plea offer was? DWI. They were willing to drop the felony charges of a nurse who was taking meds from the hospital and popping them down her throat. They wanted the DWI. That’s how serious it is.”

The long-term consequences of a DWI aren’t just a matter of insurance rates or court costs or fines: it is a social stigma that is on your permanent record… You have very, very little to lose and everything to gain by fighting the case as much as possible.

Bill Powers

Penalties for a North Carolina DWI

In North Carolina, you can get active jail time for even a DWI/DUI first offense.

“The state mandates active jail time if one of four general broad categories—what we call grossly aggravating factors—are present. There’s a difference between grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, and mitigating factors,” Powers says.

Get a breakdown of the complex sentencing factors in North Carolina DWI cases.

Why Hire a DWI Attorney?

The court may lessen DWI sentencing if certain conditions are met. These so-called mitigating factors can be a huge boon to your case. To get the benefit of them, you need an experienced North Carolina DWI attorney working on your behalf.

“A substantial portion of my job is not just analyzing DWI cases and explaining the system to people, but working hard on the mitigating factors,” Powers says.

Another part: “There’s no negotiating whether [aggravating] factors are in place, but the state does have to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.”

What Do DWI Attorney’s Fees Look Like?

As far as legal fees are concerned, DWI lawyers generally go by flat rate—meaning one price, as opposed to an hourly cost that is totaled at the end.

“I try to charge predicated on how much work I think there’s going to be in the case,” Powers says. “I don’t think it’s fair to charge $10,000 on a DWI case when I know it’s not going to go to a jury trial. Having said that, they’re not cheap because there’s a ton of front-end work, and they’re time-consuming. And the consequences of DWI are horrific.”

Clearing Your Record After Driving Under the Influence

A DWI offense is so severe that Powers has fought against them with the governor’s DWI taskforce for years. “Every week, I get a call going, ‘Can I get this off my record?” he says. “The long-term consequences of a DWI aren’t just a matter of insurance rates or court costs or fines: it is a social stigma that is on your permanent record.”

By statute, the state must fill out more paperwork for dismissing a DWI case than criminal cases such as murder, Powers adds.

And there’s no hope for a defendant negotiating their charge down. “If you go into a plea bargain and say, ‘I want reckless driving instead of DWI,’ by statute, our legislature removed reckless driving as a lesser included offense. So you have very, very little to lose and everything to gain by fighting the case as much as possible.”

Powers adds that while he’s “a collaborative law kind of guy, there’s no negotiating. I had a case this morning where a guy was charged with felony possession of methamphetamine, which is a serious drug. I call them up and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get him in some treatment. Can we negotiate out maybe a deferred disposition or even a misdemeanor plea?’ Those are allowed. We negotiate those all the time. But not any DWIs.”

Find an Experienced North Carolina DWI Defense Lawyer

A North Carolina DWI conviction can bring hefty fines, jail time, and driver’s license suspension. If you’re facing DWI criminal charges in North Carolina, consider contacting a criminal defense attorney with experience defending drunk driving cases as soon as possible. Use the Super Lawyers directory to locate attorneys or law firms in your area.

For more information about impaired driving and the law—including blood alcohol concentration (BAC) legal limits and law enforcement’s use of Breathalyzer/breath tests, blood tests, and field sobriety tests—see our overview of DUI/DWI law.

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