SOCCER MOMS (and Dads) BEWARE
Imagine yourself on any given Saturday morning driving your soccer star back and forth to their morning match. After the game, you and the other soccer moms (dads too) decide to take the kids for a bite to eat and, as you unwind together, you have a large glass of wine. You don’t feel impaired at all. You certainly don’t believe that you’ve done anything to put your child in danger when you get back in your car to drive your child home. Yet as you drive safely home, a local law enforcement officer pulls you because your registration has expired (or at least you haven’t replaced the old sticker with the updated one).
The officer walks up to your window and explains the issue. He notices an odor of alcohol on your breath and asks if you’ve had anything to drink. After you honestly tell him that you’ve had a glass of wine, he asks if you’ll step out of the vehicle just so that he can confirm that you’re good to drive.
You’re polite. You’re cooperative. You not concerned so you don’t take his tests that seriously. Your kids are in the car so you’re not paying close attention to what the officer is saying. After hurrying through a handful of roadside tests, you gladly consent to preliminary breath test, one of those hand held breath machines that the officers carry. Wait! What?
You register a 0.08 on his hand held device. No way! This couldn’t be! You’re being arrested???
These situations are not uncommon. Many times, those who are polite, cooperative, and unsuspecting find themselves arrested for Driving While Impaired. Things quickly become more complex when there is a child under the age of 18 in the car. Under North Carolina General Statute 20-179, the fact that your child was in the car is about to take this charge from a potential low level DWI to a grossly aggravated offense.
A low level DWI offender, if convicted, may face a judgment that includes unsupervised probation, 24 hours of community service, substance abuse classes, and license suspension with a driving privilege, court costs, and fines.
On the other hand, if you are convicted of DWI and the court finds that you were driving a child under the age of 18, you face a potential “grossly aggravating factor.” A grossly aggravating factor dramatically increases the minimum sentence that a judge can impose in a Driving While Impaired case.
The grossly aggravating factor of having a child under 18 in the car is more severe than other such grossly aggravating factors. General Statute 20-179 says that if a judge finds that a child under the age of 18 was in the car at the time of impaired driving, the judge must impose the Level One judgment. A level one judgment is the same judgment that you could get if this conviction was your third conviction for Driving While Impaired within 7 years.
An active level one judgment- meaning straight jail time- requires a minimum of 30 days in jail upwards to 2 years. Even if you are placed on probation, you still must do at least 10 days either in jail or in an inpatient substance abuse treatment facility followed by 120 days of abstaining from drinking alcohol as monitored by a Continuous Alcohol Monitoring device.
Another challenge of a level 1 DWI judgment is the license suspension. If you are convicted at level 1 due to the presence of a child, even if it’s your first offense, your license will be revoked for a full year and you will not be eligible for a limited driving privilege during that time. This means that you can’t even drive back and forth to work, school, or the doctor – a full year of not being able to drive your soccer player back and forth to games and practice. Instead, you are completely dependent on other people or other modes of transportation.
In closing, all parents or guardians of children under 18 need to be sure to understand that even if you feel fine and could honestly drive safely, the law may not be on your side. What feels like a perfectly reasonable decision may end up putting you not only in a position to be found guilty of a DWI, but an elevated level of DWI that could require significant jail time, inpatient treatment, and costly inconveniences to your family.
Should you find yourself in such a situation, we are here for you. Call us so that we can review your case, advise you of legal arguments, and ensure that your rights (and family) are protected.