Understanding the Legal Terminology in Your North Carolina DWI Case

If you have been arrested for driving while impaired (DWI), understanding your situation is important, and it can also be extremely complicated. In North Carolina, DWI cases are far more complex than most people realize, and both state law and the U.S. Constitution will play critical roles in establishing your defense.

To understand your rights, you first need to learn the basic terminology. Here is a summary of some of the key legal terms that will play a role in your DWI case:


After a DWI arrest in North Carolina, the first court date is called an arraignment. Arraignments happen quickly, usually within a few days of the arrest. At the arraignment, you will appear before a judge who will read the charges against you, and you will have the opportunity to state whether you intend to represent yourself, hire legal counsel or request a court-appointed attorney. You are also entitled to have legal representation at the arraignment, and hiring a lawyer at this early stage can help mitigate any potential consequences of your arrest.

Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are physical examinations that police officers perform in order to attempt to discern whether a driver is intoxicated. There are three “standardized” tests that will most often be used: the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the one-leg stand test, and the walk-and-turn test. While you are not legally required to take the FSTs, if you do, your results can be used against you in your DWI case.

Implied Consent

Under North Carolina law, all drivers give their “implied consent” to submit to a breath or blood test when the police have reasonable grounds to believe that they have been driving under the influence of alcohol. If you violate the implied consent law (i.e. by refusing to take a Breathalyzer test):

  • The prosecution may be able to use your refusal against you in your DWI case, and
  • You can face an additional charge (and additional penalties) as a result of your refusal.

Motion to Suppress

In many cases, the prosecution will attempt to introduce evidence that is legally inadmissible. There are several reasons why evidence may be inadmissible, including lack of relevance, undue prejudice and having been obtained in violation of Constitutional standards. When the prosecution attempts to introduce inadmissible evidence, your attorney can seek to keep it out of your case by filing a motion to suppress.

Plea Agreement

While some DWI cases go all the way through trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys commonly negotiate plea agreements out of court. If a plea agreement is the best option in your case, your attorney will help you understand the consequences of both accepting the plea and going to court so that you can make an informed decision.

Probable Cause

Probable cause is the legal standard that applies to DWI arrests. Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the police cannot make an arrest in the absence of probable cause. Lack of probable cause is justification to have any evidence obtained after your arrest excluded from your case.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is the legal standard that applies to traffic stops (note that being stopped does not equate to being arrested). Similar to lack of probable cause, lack of reasonable suspicion can be grounds to file a motion to have any subsequently-obtained evidence suppressed at trial.

Speak with a Raleigh DWI Lawyer in Confidence

The criminal defense attorneys at Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC provide aggressive legal representation for individuals facing DWI charges in North Carolina. To speak with an attorney about your case in confidence, call (919) 833-3114 or request a consultation online today.