Drivers under the age of 21 are responsible for approximately 17 percent of all fatal alcohol-related crashes in the U.S. According to the CDC, nearly 2,000 underage drinkers die every year while operating a vehicle, and alcohol is a factor in one-third of all teen auto accidents.
In North Carolina, getting a DWI when you’re under 21 years of age can carry substantial fines and may require some offenders to serve out lengthy terms of probation. It can also have lasting repercussions for those over the age of 18—many former underage drinking convicts report having difficulty finding steady employment or rental housing.
It’s important to note that underage DWI has much more restrictive penalties than a normal DWI. If convicted, you may lose your license for a longer period of time. If you’re under 21, you may not be able to get limited driving privileges.
What’s Considered Under the Influence?
North Carolina is a zero-tolerance state. If a chemical test determines that a driver under 21 has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .01 percent or higher, the driver can be cited for driving under the influence. (For those 21 or older, the BAC limit is .08%)
What Are the Penalties?
There are five levels of misdemeanor DUI charges. Level V is the least serious and Level I is the most serious. For all misdemeanor charges, the license is suspended immediately for 30 days with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
A Level V misdemeanor DUI is punishable by a fine of up to $200 with a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours and a maximum of 60 days. A judge can suspend the sentence to 24 hours of jail or 24 hours of community service.
A Level IV is punishable by a fine of up to $500 with a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours and a maximum of 120 days. A judge can suspend the sentence to 48 hours of jail or 48 hours of community service.
Level III misdemeanors have a fine of up to $1,000 with a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours and a maximum of six months. A judge can suspend the sentence to 72 hours of jail or 72 hours of community service.
Level II misdemeanors have a fine of up to $2,000 with a minimum jail sentence of seven days and a maximum of one year. A judge can’t suspend the minimum sentence for a Level II DUI.
Level I misdemeanors have a fine of up to $4,000 with a minimum jail sentence of 30 days and a maximum of two years. A judge can’t suspend the minimum sentence for a Level I DUI.
Level I and II drivers are repeat offenders, persons driving with a revoked license, impaired drivers with children in the car, or impaired drivers who’ve hurt someone in a crash.
Those charged with driving after consuming under age 21 for the first time, who have not caused a serious accident, are often given a break by the court. Many counties in our state offer a first-time offender program where criminal charges may be dismissed and/or expunged by meeting certain requirements, such as community service or probation.
In addition to driving under the influence, an underage drinker may be charged with any of the following:
- Distributing alcohol to other minors (were there underage drunk passengers?);
- Minor in possession;
- Soliciting alcohol;
- Child endangerment law violations;
- Possession of false identification (was a fake ID used to purchase alcohol?); and
- Moving and vehicle maintenance violations (what else did the arresting officer see?).
Don’t Fight Charges Alone
You would never walk into an operating room and tell the doctor you’ll be performing your own surgery, so why would you do the same in a courtroom? As a parent, you know how important it is to give your child every advantage—and that includes expert legal representation. Not only can a good attorney negotiate penalty alternatives like community service and limited driving privileges, he or she will fight to get the minimum penalties, and may even be able to get charges dropped altogether.
A good number of underage drinking charges that don’t come attached to more serious charges are dismissed. While your teenager may have to perform several dozen hours of community service or attend an alcohol-education course, his criminal record will be free of a conviction related to this offense. The initial charge will appear on his public record, but it can more than likely be expunged or sealed at a later date.
Members of the experienced team at Greene Crow & Smith can explain your possible outcomes, investigate your offense, and help you avoid the negative consequences you may face. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact Greene Crow & Smith by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting nctriallawyers.com.
(Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; North Carolina Department of Transportation; North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles; Absolute Advocacy; Huffington Post; Nolo Network; and CNN.)