In North Carolina, a first-offense conviction of Driving While Impaired will result in a suspension of your driver’s license for at least one year. Most people convicted of a first-offense DWI will be eligible for a limited driving privilege allowing them to drive for work-related and household-maintenance purposes during that year. But, of course, there are exceptions – this is the law, after all, and we all know what Charles Dickens said about the law.
This post deals with the interlock (or “blow-and-go”) requirement that some people are subject to upon being convicted of a first-offense DWI, the .15 exception.
If you are convicted of a first-offense DWI and, following the arrest, you registered an alcohol concentration of .15 grams of alcohol per 210 litres of breath or greater on the breath-testing instrument, you will be eligible for a limited driving privilege. But not until 45 days after the date of conviction; and you will be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in your car. This kind of limited driving privilege is also restricted to driving for work-related purposes only – there being no provision for driving for household-maintenance purposes. So, you can drive to and from (and for) work, but you can’t drive to the grocery store or your doctor’s appointment. And this on top of the 45-day absolute ban on driving (you can thank your legislature for this example of law-making brilliance). This condition of your sentence is also during the period of time that the jail-sentence for the DWI is hanging over your head because you are on probation.
Some people who find themselves in this predicament choose to forego the interlock limited privilege and wait out the year with no driving (or hoping not to get caught driving). While one can make this decision, it does not do away with the requirement of the interlock; it merely postpones it. The DMV will require the driver to have the interlock installed for one year even after the one-year suspension for the DWI conviction has run.
Here’s where it gets interesting. There are times when the State is able to prove the DWI (or the Defendant pleads guilty to the DWI) but is unable to prove the alcohol concentration of .15 or greater. This usually happens not by chance but by design; the Defendant knows he cannot beat the DWI and goes into court and pleads guilty on a day when he knows the witness that the State needs to get the alcohol concentration into evidence will not be present (to find out why this is the case, read previous blogs about aggravating factors in DWI’s – an actually far more geekily interesting subject than this!). In this case, because the .15 was not proven, the Defendant will be able to drive on a regular, non-interlock privilege for the full year of his suspension, thereby avoiding the 45-day ban on driving and the more restrictive privilege; this Defendant will be allowed to drive to the grocery store and his doctor’s appointments while his similarly-situated peer can’t.*
But (there’s always a “but”), when this person, at the end of his year-long suspension (during which he has been driving on the non-interlock privilege) goes to DMV to get his license, he, just like his peer whose .15 or greater was proven and who chose to forego the interlock privilege, will be required to have the interlock installed in his car for one year. In other words, DMV is going to get its pound of interlock flesh one way or another – either at the beginning or the end of the suspension.
In my view, the better option (if you find yourself in the situation where you have the option) is to choose the interlock at the end of the suspension and while you’re driving on a regular license – rather than having the interlock privilege during the year following the conviction. Even though the option I consider preferable is a longer process, its benefits outweigh the shorter process. By putting off the interlock requirement to the year following the suspension, you avoid the 45-day ban, you avoid the stupidly restrictive interlock privilege and you avoid having the interlock while you’re on probation.
This last consideration – having the interlock on your car when you’re not on probation – is important because interlock machine does its job (mostly badly) of notifying the provider who notifies DMV of the suspected presence of alcohol in the driver. For the driver who is driving with an interlock during the year following his suspension and his DWI sentence’s probationary period, his potential consequence for violating the interlock rules are the continued suspension of his privilege to drive plus an additional year’s suspension. For the driver who who is on probation and finds himself having to explain why the machine detected alcohol, his potential consequence is not only the loss of his ability to drive but loss of his freedom as well; because – unlike his peer who is off probation – the probationary jail-sentence hanging over his head can be lowered onto his head and activated.
In conclusion: Don’t drink and drive, and you’ll never have to worry about any of this stuff. In the mean time, keep your eye out for more stupid laws coming out of our General Assembly – the lunatics have taken over the asylum.
*I wonder what would happen if the guy with the regular, non-interlock privilege was caught driving the guy with the interlock privilege to the grocery store. Or his doctor’s appointment. Whose household are we restricted from maintaining?