In North Carolina, a person commits the offense of impaired driving if he drives while under the influence of an impairing substance; or with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance, as listed in, or its metabolites in his blood or urine.* N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-138.1(a) (West 2010).
*NOTE: Actual impairment is not an element of this offense.
- Any person who drives a vehicle on a highway or public vehicular area thereby gives consent to a chemical analysis if charged with an implied-consent offense. Any law enforcement officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that the person charged has committed the implied-consent offense may obtain a chemical analysis of the person. Id. § 20-16.2(a).
- Under the implied-consent law, an operator can refuse any test, but his or her license will be revoked for one year and could be revoked for a longer period of time under certain circumstances, and an officer can compel an operator to be tested under other laws. Id. § 20-16.2.
When deciding the penalties in North Carolina, the judge, or the jury in superior court, shall determine whether aggravating or mitigating factors apply. After which, the level of penalty will be determined. Factors include especially reckless or dangerous driving, two or more prior convictions of a motor vehicle offense not involving impaired driving, speeding by the defendant while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension, driving at the time of the offense that was safe and lawful except for the impairment of the defendant’s faculties, defendant’s driving record, the defendant’s voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment, completion of a substance abuse assessment, or any other aggravating or mitigating factors. Id. §§ 20-179(d)-(f).
- Level One Punishment -fine of up to four thousand dollars ($ 4,000); a term of imprisonment that includes a minimum term of not less than 30 days and a maximum term of not more than 24 months (the term of imprisonment may be suspended only if a condition of special probation is imposed to require the defendant to serve a term of imprisonment of at least 30 days); defendant may be required to complete a substance abuse assessment. Id. § 20-179(g).
- Level Two Punishment –fine of up to two thousand dollars ($ 2,000); a term of imprisonment that includes a minimum term of not less than seven days and a maximum term of not more than 12 months (the term of imprisonment may be suspended only if a condition of special probation is imposed to require the defendant to serve a term of imprisonment of at least seven days); possible required substance abuse assessment and the education. Id. § 20-179(h)
- *The judge may impose, as a condition of probation for defendants subject to Level One or Level Two punishments, that the defendant abstain from alcohol consumption for a minimum of 30 days, to a maximum of 60 days, as verified by a continuous alcohol monitoring system. The total cost to the defendant for the continuous alcohol monitoring system may not exceed one thousand dollars ($ 1,000). The defendant’s abstinence from alcohol shall be verified by a continuous alcohol monitoring system of a type approved by the Department of Correction. Id. § 20-179(h1).
- Level Three Punishment –fine of up to one thousand dollars ($ 1,000); a term of imprisonment that includes a minimum term of not less than 72 hours and a maximum term of not more than six months (the term of imprisonment may be reduced to 72 hour incarceration and 72 hours of community service); defendant required to obtain a substance abuse assessment. Id. § 20-179(i).
- Level Four Punishment -fine of up to five hundred dollars ($ 500.00); a term of imprisonment that includes a minimum term of not less than 48 hours and a maximum term of not more than 120 days (48 hours of community service can be served in lieu of the term of imprisonment); required substance abuse assessment and treatment required. Id. § 20-179(j).
- Level Five Punishment –fine of up to two hundred dollars ($ 200.00); a term of imprisonment that includes a minimum term of not less than 24 hours and a maximum term of not more than 60 days (the term of imprisonment may be reduced to 24 hours or imprisonment and 24 hours of community service). Id. § 20-179(k).
In North Carolina, sobriety checkpoints are authorized by statute.
Checkpoints must operate under a written policy that provides guidelines for the pattern, advise the public that an authorized checking station is being operated by having at least one law enforcement vehicle with its blue light in operation during the conducting of the checking station, and the placement of checkpoints should be random or statistically indicated, and agencies shall avoid placing checkpoints repeatedly in the same location or proximity. Id. § 20-16.3A.
- A North Carolina court held that entering a parking lot to avoid a checkpoint is probable cause for a stop. State v. Johnson, 446 S.E.2d 135 (N.C. App. 1994).
- A North Carolina court held that is it reasonable for an officer to watch for vehicles that may be attempting to avoid a checkpoint. An officer may reasonably pursue and stop a vehicle which has turned away from a checkpoint in order to determine why the vehicle turned away. State v. Foremen, 527 S.E.2d 921 (N.C. 2000).
Per Se Drugged Driving Laws
North Carolina has a zero tolerance per se drugged driving law enacted For schedule I controlled substances and their metabolites, not including cannabis (which is categorized as schedule VI under state law) or its metabolites. (North Carolina General Statues 20-138.1)
Violating the law is punishable by up to two years in jail upon conviction.
North Carolina’s law took effect December 1, 2006.