Cost to Defend A DWI in North Carolina

A DWI is an expensive proposition. It can affect your reputation and your ability to find work. It can cost you your freedom. It can also cost a pretty penny. You may choose to go along with the charge and just pay whatever the court orders, or you may choose to defend yourself and fight the charges. What is a DWI in North Carolina going to cost you?

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Some states split offenses into “driving under the influence” (DUI) and “driving while impaired (DWI), with DWI usually referring to drunk driving and DUI usually referring to driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol. In North Carolina, all offenses relating to driving under the influence of any substance, including alcohol, are considered DWIs. All of these offenses are tried and sentenced in the same way.

Court Costs

Regardless of whether you choose to defend the DWI or not, you’re going to have to pay court costs. That’s going to cost you upwards of $200. Because it’s a criminal charge, you have to appear in court even if you plan to plead guilty. The rest of the cost depends on the outcome of your trial.


Courts are cracking down on driving under the influence. DWI penalties are determined by a number of factors, including any prior offenses and the circumstances surrounding the particular charge. For example, your 3rd DWI is going to cost you more than your first. A DWI with a minor in the vehicle is going to cost you more than a DWI incurred alone when no one else was on the road. In North Carolina, a DWI sentence can include anywhere from $200 to $10,000 in fines.

Other Sentencing Costs

In addition to fines, you may be sentenced to jail time, community service, or drug and alcohol classes. Jail time is going to cost you in terms of lost wages; you can’t work while you’re in jail. If you’re sentenced to community service, you’ll have to pay a $250 fee. Drug and alcohol classes cost around $300, depending on the type of class and the number of sessions you’re required to attend.

In some cases, you may be required to install an ignition interlock systems. An ignition interlock requires you to take a breath test before you can start the car and at specified intervals while you’re driving. The court doesn’t cover the cost of that device – you do. An ignition interlock will cost you between $2,000 and $3,000 to install. Then you’ll have to monthly maintenance and lease fees of anywhere from $50 to $100. You should also factor in the time it’s going to take you to get the interlock serviced every month.

In addition to the other aspects of your sentence, you may be sentenced to a probation period. That’s going to cost you, too. Supervised probation fees run from about $1,000 to $2,000.

Driving Privileges

If you’re convicted of a DWI in North Carolina, you’ll lose your driving privileges for a year or more, depending on the severity of the offense. That’s going to make it tough for you to get to work. In certain circumstances, you may be able to prove that the driving ban is a particular hardship and regain limited driving privileges. In any case, reinstating your driving privileges after losing them for a DWI is going to cost you a $100 reinstatement fee at the DMV.

Car Insurance

The cost of your car insurance depends on how risky you are based on general statistical analysis and your personal driving history. A DWI conviction is a big hit against your driving record and your insurance costs will skyrocket. Your premiums can jump up to 400% for 3 to 5 years after the incident on the basis of the DWI conviction alone. If you were involved in a crash that damaged property or injured someone, you may be on the hook for even more.

Civil Damages

If you were involved in an accident that injured someone or damaged their property, that’s not just going to affect your insurance premiums. You may be sued for the value of the property or for the person’s injuries. A personal injury suit may result in a judgment against you for the injured party’s medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. A wrongful death suit can also result in a large monetary judgment against you. Those debts won’t go away – you can’t even discharge them in bankruptcy.

The Total

Let’s take a quick look at all the costs associated with a DWI:

  • Court Costs: $200
  • Fines: $200 – $10,000
  • Community Service: $250
  • Drug and Alcohol Classes: $300
  • Ignition Interlock: $2,000-$3,000 plus $50-$100 per month
  • Supervised Probation: $1,000-$2,000
  • Driving Privilege Reinstatement: $100
  • Car Insurance: 400% increase
  • Civil Damages: vary by case

So, in a best-case scenario, you’ll pay at least $500 plus the increase in your insurance costs. In a worst-case scenario, you may face bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Hiring an Attorney

How can you decrease the cost of a DWI in North Carolina? The obvious answer is to not get convicted. If that’s not possible, you want a conviction at the lowest possible level with the mildest possible sentence. The way to do that is to hire an attorney.

Granted, hiring an attorney isn’t free. It can range anywhere from $500 to $7500. The price will increase depending on the number of charges you’re facing, how serious the charges are, how bad the facts look, your prior history, and other factors. On the lower end of the price range, you’ll find attorneys who will convince you to plead guilty. That may be a way to get a less serious sentence, but you’re still on the hook for most of the cost. Toward the higher end of the price range, you’ll find attorneys who will help you fight the charges. Appeals will also come with additional charges.

In order to convict, the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving under the influence. They also have to get that evidence in a particular way. An attorney understands the complex rules of evidence and procedure that can make a big difference in your case.

Is an attorney worth the cost?

If you’re facing tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of fees, fines, and judgments, not to mention jail time, an attorney is your best bet. Even if you’re facing minor penalties, the cost of an attorney can make the difference between an acquittal or dismissal and a conviction. Not only will that conviction be on your record for any future employers to see, but it will cost you a minimum of $500. Spending a little money an attorney can save you the conviction.

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