As another school year gets underway, it is common for teens and college students to go to parties, sporting events and other gatherings. Although it is illegal for people under 21 to consume alcohol, some will drink anyway. They might then choose to get behind the wheel of an automobile. If there is a traffic stop and law enforcement determines that the underage driver is driving while intoxicated or simply had alcohol in the system, it can lead to a variety of problems legally and personally. For those confronted by these accusations, it is imperative to understand how to craft a viable defense and avoid the worst possible penalties.
Underage DWIs and Zero Tolerance
Simply because a person is under 21 does not alter the DWI laws. Regardless of a person’s age, they are subject to the same basic requirements when assessing their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) and the penalties they might face if they are convicted. If a person registers .08 BAC, they will likely be arrested for DWI. For those who are 16 and 17, they should be aware that unlike other illegal behaviors, they will not be tried as juveniles. They will be charged in adult court and subject to those penalties if they are convicted. With a misdemeanor conviction, there can be a fine of $1,000 and jail for up to 90 days.
Zero Tolerance is a program that addresses people under 21 who have any alcohol in their system. This is sometimes called the “not a drop” law. If a person under 21 is arrested and charged under Zero Tolerance, they will face a misdemeanor and a driver’s license suspension. They can also be prevented from getting any kind of license whether that is an instructional permit, a provisional license or a driver’s license. Those 16 or 17 will be deemed as having committed a major traffic offense. Underage drivers are also vulnerable to misconceptions about their rights. From having watched televised crime dramas, there could be a belief that they can refuse a test and it is their right to do so. Based on implied consent, they must submit to a test when asked to do so by an officer. A refusal alone can lead to a driver’s license suspension and other penalties.
Avoiding the long-term consequences of underage DWI
For those under 21, a DWI conviction can present problems that follow them around for an extended period. Often, their parents want to avoid this and the negatives surrounding a DWI. Immediately after the arrest, it is critical to understand the seriousness of the charges and take the necessary steps to cobble together a coherent defense. The traffic stop itself could be called into question; the tests might have been given unfairly; the testing equipment might be inaccurate; or the driver might not have been under the influence at all. Having experienced help can address the charges and try to come to a successful result. This should be understood by the underage driver and the parents from the outset.