Underage DUI charges come with some of the harshest punishments in the United States. They require an experienced Virginia lawyer to help navigate them. High school and college students regularly drink. In fact, Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimated that 26% of people aged 12 to 20 use alcohol. This is over a quarter of a million people in the state. Moreover, 17% of people aged 12 to 20 engaged in binge-drinking five or more drinks in the past month. However, driving while intoxicated could dramatically affect a student’s future. You should not assume that the law will not deal with you harshly if you face underage DUI charges simply due to the fact that young people in this country drink so regularly.
Furthermore, although drinking and driving fatalities and injuries have decreased recently, the law still deals a heavy blow to those who face underage DUI charges in Virginia. According to Virginia’s DMV crash report, in 2015, the number of deaths and injuries from alcohol related crashes decreased. A majority of those injured or killed were not underage drinkers. Those aged 15-19 accounted for just 1% of alcohol related traffic fatalities and .56% of alcohol related traffic injuries. Although the public health risk for underage drinkers appears to be smaller than the risk of adult drinkers, the law punishes underage drinkers much more harshly than adults over 21.
DUI for BAC Above .02 and Below .08
Essentially, as your lawyer can tell you, Virginia has a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving under 21. Virginia law states as follows:
It shall be unlawful for any person under the age of 21 to operate any motor vehicle after illegally consuming alcohol. Any such person with a blood alcohol concentration [BAC] of 0.02 percent or more by weight by volume or 0.02 grams or more per 210 liters of breath but less than 0.08 by weight by volume or less than 0.08 grams per 210 liters of breath as indicated by a chemical test administered as provided in this article shall be in violation of this section
VA Code § 18.2-266.1. This law targets drivers who are not 21 yet, and conduct which is completely legal for drivers who are over 21 (driving with a BAC below .08) is illegal for those under 21. This law is also harsh because it creates a “per se” limit. This means that having a BAC of .02 is enough to support a conviction, and the prosecutor is not also required to show that your driving was impaired. This is tougher than the DUI laws in most states, and without an underage DUI lawyer in Virginia it makes it a tougher fight to get the case dismissed.
Underage DUI charges are a Class 2 misdemeanor and punishable by loss of driver’s license for a year from conviction (often long after your arrest), a mandatory minimum fine of $500, or 50 hours of community service.
DUI for Drugs or BAC Above .08
Moreover, having a BAC of .08 or higher, or a concentration of cocaine, methamphetamine, phencyclidine, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine over the legal limit, or driving while intoxicated by any drug “to a degree which impairs his ability to drive or operate any motor vehicle. . . safely” is a violation of VA Code § 18.2-266. Again, as to alcohol, this creates a per se limit where having the requisite BAC is enough to support the conviction. This is as opposed to having to show the person’s driving was actually impaired.
Violation of this law is a Class 1 misdemeanor with a mandatory minimum fine of $250. You will also have your license automatically suspended for seven days. However, if a person’s BAC is between .15 and .2 he or she will face a minimum of five days in jail, and if it is over .2, an additional ten days in jail. A second offense within five years is punishable by a fine of $500 and one month to one year in jail and a possible license revocation of three years. Each offense is treated more harshly, and by the third offense, you cannot be granted bail while you wait for trial.
Collateral Consequences of a DUI
Obviously, jail time and fines are the bulk of the punishment that your lawyer will have to fight. However, there are other consequences from a conviction that can affect your future and your pocketbook. Collateral consequences are the consequences that come with a conviction, but that the person facing the charges is often not aware of. For underage DUI charges in Virginia, there are many collateral consequences.
License Suspension and Ignition Interlock Device With Breathalyzer
Most commonly, every person convicted of a DUI will have his or her license suspended. In addition, since 2012 every person convicted must get a mandatory ignition interlock device with a breathalyzer (which costs you several hundred dollars to install) on his or her car. With an ignition interlock device, the driver has to blow into a device linked to the car’s ignition. If the driver blows higher than the legal limit, the car will not start. Furthermore, you typically must participate in Alcohol Safety Action Program including screening and oversight which may include testing and treatment or education 20 hours of classes. You also will have to pay court costs, which could add up to hundreds of dollars.
Criminal Record With a Misdemeanor Conviction
Additionally, you will have a criminal record with a misdemeanor conviction. This could impede your ability to obtain certain jobs, receive professional licenses, or gain admission to institutions of higher learning. A misdemeanor conviction could also:
- prevent you from joining the military
- affect your immigration status
- prohibit you from living in public housing
- prevent you from being able to have certain jobs
In Virginia, DUI cases cannot be expunged if you are convicted. As a result, you will have a record with a conviction for the rest of your life. Employers and schools can use this information to discriminate against you in the hiring and admissions process. A school could also choose to expel or suspend you, require additional alcohol education classes, treatment, or testing, or impose various other disciplinary tactics.
Hire an Experienced Underage DUI Lawyer in Virginia
Even if you think the police have an open and shut case, your lawyer can advocate to:
- get the court to dismiss your case
- lessen your sentence
- reduce the harsh consequences of a conviction
Here’s how an experienced underage DUI lawyer in Virginia can help you fight your charges:
- Get the court to allow you to continue to drive during your license suspension under a restricted license. This will allowing a person to drive to work or school if the person attends an Alcohol Safety Action Program.
- File a motion to dismiss if your constitutional rights were violated by filing motions with the court.
- Advocate to reduce or waive the fee for the Alcohol Safety Action Program.
- Work to find alternatives to jail time, or help to reduce the amount of jail time through negotiating in plea bargaining with the prosecutor.
If you are facing underage DUI charges, hire an experienced underage DUI lawyer in Virginia to protect you from the harsh impact of a conviction by calling Fisher Law Firm, P.C. at (540) 381-8750.