In addition to the “Aggravating Factors,” there are even more serious “Grossly Aggravating Factors” that can result in a significantly higher punishment level. In fact, just one Grossly Aggravating Factor is enough to elevate your punishment level up to Level 2. Level 2 and above has provisions for mandatory time in jail without other intervention such as inpatient treatment for substance abuse and/or SCRAM program completion. So what are these factors, and how do judges weigh them?
- Person Under 18 in the Car– The most serious Grossly Aggravating Factor should be mentioned first. If you have a person under the age of 18 in the car, a person with a mental development of a child less than 18 years old, or a person who is physically handicapped and is unable to get out of the vehicle without assistance, then you are automatically raised to Level One, which is the second highest punishment (Aggravated Level One is the highest.) This single grossly aggravating factor can dramatically increase your punishment. For the other grossly aggravating factors, one factor will get you up to Level Two, two factors will get you up to Level One, and three or more factors will get you up to Aggravated Level One.
- Prior DWI Within the Past 7 Years– One of the most common Grossly Aggravating Factors is a conviction for impaired driving within the past 7 years before the alleged offense date in the current case. This offense can happen in North Carolina, or any other state in the United States. Where ever it occurs, it has the same effect. Each individual prior conviction counts as an additional Grossly Aggravating Factor. This can have a huge effect on your case.
- License Revoked for a Prior Impaired Driving Offense– Another common way that people get a Grossly Aggravating Factor is to drive while your license is revoked for a prior impaired driving offense. The legislature takes a harsh view on those who have already lost their license due to an implied consent offense.
- Accident With Serious Injury To Another Person– The final type of Grossly Aggravating Factor is having an accident which results in serious injury to another person. This is understandable, because the main reason that there are DWI laws are to protect other motorists from harm. When an innocent person is seriously injured because of a drunk driver, the legislature wants to make sure that the person who caused the accident is punished. The judge may feel pressure to sentence harsher if the person who is injured is sitting in the courtroom.
So after all of this is calculated up, the judge still has a lot of leeway in determining how you will be sentenced. A judge can listen to the facts of the case and make a determination of how serious the case is. And you must remember that there are two sides to every case. The State presents its side, and we present yours.
Mitigating Factors Have No Effect to Offset Grossly Aggravating Factors
Mitigating Factors are available and used to balance Aggravating Factors. For instance, if the Mitigating factors outweigh the Aggravating Factors and there are no Grossly Aggravating Factors, then the person will be sentenced at the lowest level (Level 5). However, when you get have just one Grossly Aggravating Factor, you are outside of the usual sentencing framework. No matter how many Mitigating Factors you have, you are going to be sentenced at Level 2, Level 1, or Aggravated Level 1. However, any Mitigating Factors can be used to argue your case during the sentencing phase of the DWI process. The more that you have, the better the case is going to be for you.
So when you have a case with any Grossly Aggravating Factor, your case is much different and much more serious than the more usual DWI. You need to be ready to mount an aggressive defense to your DWI charge in order to try to minimize the higher penalties. We will look at your case from top to bottom to determine if there are any legal or factual defenses we can use to defeat your case. If not, we will turn our efforts to attempting to keep you out of jail. We will advise and guide you through every step as your case progresses. We will answer your questions and review your options. Then, you will be in the best position to make the best decision for you and your family. Every case is different, but we will be here to help get you through this ordeal.