North Carolina DWI Law: "Laura"s Law" Takes Affect

While there are many facets to a North Carolina DWI Defense, having a good understanding of the possible sentence that a Defendant can face is extremely important. As a Raleigh DWI Lawyer and a Durham DWI Lawyer who practices in North Carolina, I have spent a large amount of time studying the different and varying areas of North Carolina DWI Defense. From understanding the Standards of Proof, evaluating the stops, to reviewing the administration of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, to having a good idea of what DWI Sentence my client will likely face, I stay informed. That is why I am writing today about the fact that NC's Newest DWI law, 'Laura's Law' has taken affect as of December 1, 2011. This law applies to anyone charged with a DWI as of December 1, 2011.

Officially called House Bill 49, Laura's Law was so named after Laura Fortenberry. Ms. Fortenberry was a young lady who tragically died in an auto accident caused by a Drunk Driver who had multiple convictions for Driving While Intoxicated. The bill was signed into existence on June 23, 2011 by Governor Purdue. This new law added a new, more severe sentencing level for the most serious of DWI offenders as well as change one facet of DWI sentencing in North Carolina.

Prior to this law, NC had five levels of Sentencing, numbered one through five, with one being the most serious and five being the least serious. Laura's Law added what is called an Aggravated Level One to NC's DWI Sentencing Structure. In order to be sentenced at an Aggravated Level One, the Defendant must have three or more 'Grossly Aggravating Factors.' Grossly Aggravating Factors are used to place a Defendant at the highest, most severe sentencing range. One Grossly Aggravating Factor will result in a Level two, Two Grossly Aggravating Factors results in a Level one. With Laura's Law, three or more Grossly Aggravating Factors places the Defendant Sentence at the Aggravated Level One. This new level permits the court to sentence the Defendant to 12 to 36 months of incarceration, with a mandatory 120 days in jail. The Defendant would not be eligible for early release prior to four months before the end of their active sentence. Upon release the Defendant must be placed on Supervised Probation as well as abstain from consuming any alcohol which is monitored by a device attached to the Defendant's ankle, which the Defendant is required to pay for. Additionally, the Defendant ca be fined up to $10,000.

The second part of Laura's Law changed one of the requirements for a Grossly Aggravating Factor. Prior to December 1, a Defendant could have one Grossly Aggravating Factor if, at the time of the DWI arrest, the Defendant had someone 16 years old or younger in the vehicle. After Laura's Law took affect December 1, a Defendant can receive one Grossly Aggravating Factor for having someone 18 years old or younger in the vehicle. This can be especially troubling for young people who are caught driving while intoxicated with their friends in the vehicle. These youths could be sentenced at a Level 2 even for their first offense, which requires a mandatory 7 days in jail (with the potential for more) and a possible fine of $2,000.

Though habitual DWI Defendant's is a serious concern, this new law can have serious ramification for even first time DWI Defendants. For that reason, if you are charged with a DWI in North Carolina, you should immediately speak with a local DWI Defense attorney about your case.
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