Getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol is dangerous no matter what. If you get behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or higher, regardless of age, you also put yourself at risk of being convicted of Driving While Intoxicated or DWI. However, if you are under the age of 21 and have any amount of alcohol in your system while driving, you can still be charged with Driving Under the Influence or DUI. Both underage DWI and DUI are serious offenses that can impact your driving record and your future.
A conviction for DWI or DUI can have lifelong consequences, such as loss of driving privileges, court-ordered community service, and a stain on your record. If you have been charged with driving after consuming alcohol and are under the age of 21, it is especially important that you speak with an attorney to assess your rights. Criminal defense attorney Jose Ceja, of Ceja Law Firm, is experienced in representing people of all ages charged with alcohol offenses. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Ceja is well versed in the tactics used by police and the prosecution and will use his knowledge of criminal procedure to get the best possible outcome in your case. He has extensively studied the law of breath and blood testing and is even certified to administer police balance tests.
DWI defined by the Texas Penal Code as being intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place. Intoxicated means one of two things:
- Loss of mental or physical faculties because of the use of alcohol, controlled substances or other drugs; or
- Having a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more.
The first definition, lacking mental or physical faculties, is subjective and can be difficult to prove. For example, it may be difficult to prove that poor performance on a balance test is caused by intoxication, or a pre-existing injury of some type. That is why, whenever possible, police will try and obtain breath or blood evidence. Blood-alcohol level is an objective and quantifiable fact used to establish whether someone is intoxicated.
The Typical Underage DWI Case
Stops: Probable Cause
Most DWI cases come about when a driver is either stopped by a police officer for a traffic infraction or at a routine checkpoint. If a police officer singles a driver out by pulling him or her over, the police officer must have a good reason for the stop. In most cases, a police officer observed the driver doing something improper while driving, such as weaving in the lane, failing to signal, or failing to stop at a stop sign or traffic light. Other times the vehicle itself gives the police officer a reason to pull a driver over, for instance, if there is a burned-out taillight or the registration sticker has expired. Regardless, the police must have a justifiable reason for pulling you over.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has prevented law enforcement from conducting routine checkpoints, concluding checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, in many instances. Therefore, if a driver is charged with DWI stemming from a routine checkpoint in Texas, there may be grounds to challenge the constitutionality of the stop.
Once a driver is stopped, a police officer must also have probable cause to suspect the driver is under the influence of alcohol in order to investigate further. In many cases, this is established by observing the driver’s behavior and identifying a lack of coordination or slurred speech. In other cases, an officer may smell alcohol on the driver or see open alcoholic containers in the vehicle. Police officers are trained to look for evidence of intoxication during the person-to-person interaction.
In any case, the police officer must usually have some identifiable reason for requesting the driver perform a field sobriety test, blow into a breathalyzer, or submit to a blood test to determine the amount of alcohol in the driver’s system.
In Texas, the law requires that all licensed drivers submit to testing to determine blood-alcohol concentration upon request by a police officer acting on probable cause to believe a driver is driving under the influence of alcohol. When a driver obtains a driver’s license, he is considered to have impliedly consented to giving a breath or blood test after a traffic stop and during the course of an investigation for driving while intoxicated.
You may decline a breathalyzer or blood test, but doing so may lead to a suspension of your driving privileges. The first refusal results in suspension of driving privileges for 180 days. A second refusal results in suspension of driving privileges for 2 years.
In Texas, it is illegal for any person under the age of 21 to consume alcohol. Because underage alcohol consumption is illegal, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drive or actually control a motor vehicle with any amount of alcohol in their system. A person under the age of 21 who drives a motor vehicle is guilty of Driving Under the Influence by a Minor (DUI by a Minor). A minor whose blood-alcohol level registers 0.08 percent or greater is guilty of a different crime–Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).
Consequences for DWI Underage
A person over the age of 17 who registers blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent can be convicted of a Class B misdemeanor, carrying a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours.
More specifically, on the first offense a driver could face a fine of up to $2,000, a jail sentence of between 3 and 180 days, and suspension of a driver’s license for one year (may be reduced to 90 days if community supervision and ignition interlock device are required).
On the second offense, a driver may face a fine of up to $4,000 fine, a jail sentence of between 30 days and 1 year, and suspension of driver’s license for between 180 days and 18 months.
A third offense may result in a fine of up to $10,000, a penitentiary sentence of between 2 and 10 years, and suspension of driver’s license for between 180 days and 2 years.
The Difference Between an Underage DWI & DUI
DWI applies to any person (regardless of age) driving a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or greater.
DUI only applies to those under the age of 21 because it is illegal to have any amount of alcohol under 21. Punishment for DUI includes fines, probation, suspension of driving privileges, and/or mandatory alcohol awareness courses.
If You Have Been Charged with an Underage DWI, Contact Ceja Law Firm Today
Whether the person charged with DWI is you or your child, the consequences of a conviction can be severe. At the Ceja Law Firm, we understand one mistake should not derail your life. For this reason, Attorney Jose Ceja tirelessly represents his clients’ interests in each and every case. Attorney Ceja is experienced in assisting minors charged with DWI and DUI and will put that experience to work for you. If you have been accused of driving under the influence underage, contact Ceja Law Firm right now to protect your rights.