What to Expect in a Wilmington DWI Trial

Written by Thom Goolsby


The process of going through a DWI trial may take more time than you expect and involve higher legal fees, but it may be worth the trouble and effort when your reputation, career, and freedom are on the line.

If you’ve been charged with DWI in North Carolina, your trial will take place in the District Court of the county where the alleged offense took place. These cases are typically bench trials, decided by a District Court Judge. But, if you are not satisfied with the outcome of your District Court trial, you may appeal. Unlike some states, your DWI case is eligible for a new trial in Superior Court in front of a jury.

At Goolsby Law Firm, we will thoroughly review your case to determine what DWI defenses may apply. We will vigorously advocate for the desired outcome at every stage of the criminal justice process.

For a free consultation with an experienced Wilmington DWI lawyer regarding the pros and cons of pursuing a DWI trial, call us today at (910) 763–3339.

Understanding North Carolina DWI Pretrial Procedures

During a preliminary hearing for DWI and related charges, the District Court judge can weigh the evidence and rule whether your case should advance to trial. This hearing is the opportunity for your lawyer to present pre-trial motions such as a motion to suppress the stop and/or probable cause for your arrest.

The motion to suppress is a request for the judge to remove unlawfully obtained evidence and even your arrest from the case. If successful, your motion to suppress may require the judge to dismiss the charges because of a lack of evidence.

In most jurisdictions, this hearing is when your lawyer and the prosecutor would present plea agreements to the judge for approval. This is the way most drunk driving cases are resolved, but in North Carolina, this type of action is rare.

North Carolina General Statute section 20-138.4 requires prosecutors to present their reasons in writing for agreeing to a DWI dismissal or reduction. They can be required to convince the judge at the hearing why this is a good idea. In practice, this type of extra-judicial scrutiny over DWI plea agreements means that prosecutors rarely agree to them in the first place.

You Can Fight DWI Charges in Two Separate Trials

If you refuse a plea agreement to deal with your DWI charge and the judge is convinced that the prosecutor has enough evidence, your case will advance to trial. This trial will take place in District Court where a District Court Judge will decide the outcome of your case.

Many times, these judges are former prosecutors who are elected to their positions by voters. Judges and the public-at-large are very serious about DWI matters.

At your trial, the prosecutor must prove the three main elements of DWI beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You were driving a vehicle,
  • On a public road within the county where the case is being prosecuted, and
  • You were “appreciably impaired” or had a blood alcohol content of at least .08.

Generally, challenging the third element relating to intoxication is your best chance of avoiding a conviction.

If the prosecutor is using the results of a breath or blood test, your lawyer can raise doubt as to its accuracy. If the evidence of intoxication includes the officer’s observations of things such as your red eyes, slurred speech or behavior, it may be possible to show these factors were the result of fatigue, illness, age or stress.

If the defense arguments do not convince the District Court Judge, you will get convicted of DWI. Fortunately, you can request a new trial in Superior Court where a jury will hear your case. They may be more receptive to your arguments.

Depending on the facts, the evidence at the prosecutor’s disposal and the opportunities you have to challenge this evidence, taking your DWI case to the Superior Court may be the key to avoiding a conviction.

Talk to a Wilmington DWI Trial Lawyer Today

If you want to avoid the burden of criminal penalties and collateral consequences stemming from a North Carolina DWI conviction, you need to work with an experienced and aggressive defense lawyer. The sooner your lawyer can begin working on your case, the better your chances of obtaining a good case outcome.

To learn more about the defense options in your DWI case, call Goolsby Law Firm today at (910) 763–3339 for a free consultation.

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    212 Walnut St. Suite 100
    Wilmington, North Carolina 28401

    Like any quality criminal defense attorney, Thom Goolsby may be in court when you first call, but leave a voice mail or send a text. We’ll get with you as soon as possible, so we can go over what happened, evaluate the case, and explain what comes next.