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North Carolina bill seeks to modify habitual DWI offense

Earlier this month, this blog discussed habitual driving while impaired charges. North Carolina law allows authorities to seek felony DWI charges against drivers with repeat DWI offenses within a 10 year time frame. A fourth conviction of DWI within 10 years qualifies as a habitual DWI offense, which carries the potential for serious consequences, starting with a mandatory minimum prison sentence.

Lawmakers are considering a change to North Carolina law to allow prosecutors to pursue more felony DWIs under the habitual DWI provisions of the law. A bill has been introduced in the House that would somewhat modify the 10-year look-back period. The House bill proposes to eliminate the 10-year period for people who have been previously convicted of a habitual DWI offense.

In other words, a fourth offense within 10 years would still qualify for a habitual DWI charge, but a driver previously convicted of the felony level DWI would qualify for new habitual DWI charges in North Carolina regardless of the timing of the previous habitual conviction.

Authorities do not know how many people have avoided habitual DWI charges due to the current version of the look-back period. Twenty two sponsors have signed on to the measure, known as House Bill 31.

The measure reportedly was prompted after a 53-year-old habitual DWI offender was released on parole in 2010. He had been sentenced in 1993 to a 40-year prison term. He had spent 17 years behind bars before his parole. Authorities say that he was convicted of DWI in Guilford County in 2011 and has more recently been charged in Forsythe County. Neither of the recent offenses qualified as habitual DWI offenses because the most recent prior occurred before the 17 years the man spent in prison.

Source: News-Record, "DWI bill would remove N.C. loophole," Travis Fain, Feb. 14, 2013

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