When Is DWI a Felony in North Carolina?


Most DWI charges in the state of North Carolina are misdemeanors. These fall into five levels, with Level V being the least serious and Level I being the most serious. Each Level carries it own penalties that can include jail time, fines, community service, and a license suspension. For example, a Level I DWI misdemeanor can lead to a fine of up to $4,000 along with jail time ranging from 30 days up to two years. You can be charged with a Level I DWI misdemeanor when you have a priorDWI on your record, when driving intoxicated with minors in your car, or when you have caused serious injuries in a DWI-related accident.

A DWI in the state gets bumped up to the most serious category of criminal charges – a felony – under the following circumstances:

  • You have three or more previous DWI convictions that have accumulated within the last 10 years of your current offense or
  • You DWI resulted in the death of another person

Habitual Offender

Under North Carolina law 20-138.5, anyone with three prior DWI convictions is considered a Habitual Offender. This is charged as a Class F felony that carries a minimum jail sentence of 12 months that cannot be suspended and a maximum prison term of 59 months. It also can result in the mandatory completion of a rehab program, a permanent revocation of your driver’s license, and a forfeiture of your vehicle.


North Carolina has a “death-by-vehicle” law that is defined as unintentionally causing someone to die while driving intoxicated. This is charged as a Class D felony carrying 38 up to 160 months in prison and a fine imposed by the court at an amount it deems appropriate. If you have a prior DWI conviction when convicted of a death-by-vehicle offense, it is considered “aggravated” and is charged as a Class D felony punishable by 64 up to 160 months of prison time and fines set at the discretion of the court. Anyone convicted of a death-by-vehicle crime will be subject to a one-year license revocation.

Turn to Jetton & Meredith, PLLC

Any of the above felonies translate to a very serious legal matter that require representation from a trusted professional. Along with criminal punishments and loss of your license, you will face the collateral consequences of having a permanent criminal record. Your record can be an obstacle when seeking future employment, housing, professional licenses, and more. For an aggressive defense focused on getting the best possible outcome, you should seek legal assistance from our firm where we are committed to legal integrity and excellence.

Contact us at (704) 931-5535 for a free case review.