Over the past three decades, drunk driving laws in North Carolina have been getting progressively stricter. In the 1980's, drunk driving was not seen as a particularly serious infraction; indeed, it was relatively common and lacked the heavy social stigma it carries today. As a result, laws against drunk driving were relatively lenient and courts of the day often let offenders off with fairly light sentences.
Eventually, however, the practice of drunk driving was placed under public scrutiny, aided by the now-famous group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Drivers came to see the terrible consequences that drunk driving can have for themselves and for other motorists, and lawmakers responded by tightening up restrictions. Legal limits were lowered, mandatory license suspensions were imposed, and fines and jail time were increased.
Today, all states treat drunk driving very seriously, and the penalties associated with the practice are quite severe, even for first-time offenders. Anyone convicted of drunk driving will have their license automatically suspended, and a number of heavy fines will be imposed. Penalties increase greatly with subsequent convictions.
Some say, however, that the current system still isn't strict enough, particularly for habitual offenders. Habitual drunk drivers are treated to the most severe DWI penalties in North Carolina's law books. A habitual offender is defined as someone who has been convicted of four DWI within 10 years.
Anti-drunk driving advocates say that definition is too lenient. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would redefine a habitual offender as someone who has been convicted three times, with no 10-year restriction. This would likely turn every driver's third DWI into a possible conviction as a habitual offender.
The Senate has yet to vote on this new, stricter definition. So far, lawmakers there have shown little enthusiasm for the new law. It remains to be seen whether they will act upon it.
While everyone deserves to drive on our nation's highways without worrying about drunk drivers, it is incorrect to assume that everyone arrested for the crime is guilty. Defense attorneys work diligently to ensure their clients' rights are protected throughout the court process, including the requirement that guilt be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
Source: Winston-Salem Journal, "Habitual drunk drivers: State senate must follow house in crackdown" No Author Given, Oct. 20, 2013