Let me tell you about a sad sad case here in NC. Not my client, but this is what I learned from a close friend of mine who practices in another jurisdiction. Client of his, who shall remain nameless, had a pretty hard life starting out in Mexico, but managed to come here to the US at a pretty young age and by working and saving like crazy, bought a house and went to school and was really doing well. She even met a fellow and had a couple kids. He was employed as a framer and his business was doing well. One Christmas night, seven or eight years ago, this young lady had a bit too much to drink and, as folks sometimes do, felt she was ok to drive, but ended up getting pulled at a checkpoint (cops always seem to have these set up around holidays!). Anyway, you see the end of this coming. DWI, convicted. Boom.
Now, the situation was not so bad I suppose because, like many first-timers here in NC, with no “grossly aggravating factors”, she was punished at a level 5, which basically means a fine of like $100, court costs, loss of license for a year, maybe she had to do some community service. I think she even got a limited driving privilege to drive back and forth to work. Not bad, all things considered.
Fast forward seven or eight years. Christmas night (again) she has had a bit too much to drink so she, recalling her brush with the law, tries to do the responsible thing; when it’s time to leave the party she doesn’t drive away, she sits in her car, parked out front of the party house, and, with her three young kids inside (all of whom are sleeping), she takes a little rest. Not thirty minutes later she’s roused from her sleep by some cop beating on her window with a flashlight. Says he noticed her asleep and “just wanted to check on her safety” (bullshit). She rolls down the window, cops smells a faint bit of booze and, well, you know the rest.
Fast forward a few weeks: there she is in court. Now she’s been through this deal once before right? And that time she was actually driving and even then she got a limited privilege to drive to work, and a little fine and some classes, so she’s thinking this’ll be pretty much the same. So, because money’s tight, she doesn’t even bother to hire a lawyer. The surprise comes when she’s in court and decides simply to plead guilty and take her medicine. Far from being the low level 5 that she had before, this time she’s a level 1. Prior conviction within 7 years = grossly aggravating factor no. 1; Three kids in the car = three more grossly aggravating factors. Boom she’s done. Maximum sentence in front of some asshole who didn’t mind in the least taking a plea from a woman who’d elected to represent herself. Sentence? One year, active in the NC DOC. Oh yeah, and because she was in jail and never had a chance to renew her visa, she ended up getting deported. Kids stayed with their dad and, up until recently, had mostly phone contact with mom, plus a yearly trip to Mexico.
Total bullshit, I say: North Carolina DWI laws need to change
Sorry guys, but NC needs to change its sentencing laws for DWIs. Other enlightened states recognize the difference between actually driving and being merely “in control but not operating” a vehicle (as she was when she napped in her car in front of the house). Sad to think that a lady who was doing really the very best thing she could do to NOT drive, having learned her lesson before, was hit so damn hard. Don’t get me wrong, DWI is serious and causes untold loss and sadness every day of the year. But there’s a pretty big difference in the danger posed by a person napping and a person driving. And any law that fails to recognize the difference in level of danger and punishes both equally needs to be changed.