In all states, it’s a crime for minors under the age of 21 to consume enough alcohol to register between 0.02 and 0.08 blood alcohol content (zero tolerance laws). The law does not require proof that the minor was drunk; the only proof required is that the alcohol in the minor’s system was between a 0.02 and 0.08 at the time of driving.
Generally speaking, it does not take very much alcohol to reach the legal limit for a minor. A very small quantity of alcohol will place a minor driver at risk for an arrest and the filing of a criminal minor DUI charge.
Penalties for minor DUI
If you are convicted for a minor DUI, your penalty can be as severe as 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, depending on which state you’re in. Upon conviction typical consequences include probation for up to two years, an alcohol assessment and treatment recommended, attendance of a DUI victim's panel, as well as possible jail time, community service, or an electronic home monitoring sentence. During the period of probation you may also have to submit to random urine or breath tests.
In the event that you are underage but your breath or blood test was over a 0.08 concentration, you will likely be prosecuted as an adult and subject to the mandatory minimum penalties that adults face.
Department of Licensing Penalties
A Department of Licensing (DoL) will also punish a minor for a DUI arrest separate from the criminal consequences above. The DoL will seek to impose an automatic license suspension, regardless of the outcome of the criminal case. This license suspension is separate and distinct from any of the criminal penalties. The license suspension will be automatic unless the arrested minor requests a hearing before to contest the pending license suspension just like a regular adult has to. The request must be very quickly from the date of the arrest. An experienced and dedicated DUI lawyer is necessary to give you the very best chance of winning the hearing and avoiding the mandatory license suspension.
Despite the best efforts of your attorney, the decision to suspend is up to the DoL and if they in fact suspend your license it can be for 90 days for a first offense, depending on the state. For a second minor DUI arrest the suspension can last as long as 2 years or until the minor is 21 years old, whichever is longer.
Additionally, a DoL suspension means you will have to obtain high-risk insurance (SR–22 insurance) for a period of time (around three years, varying across states) following the suspension period. The cost of insurance for a minor is expensive enough without a DUI arrest, but with the added requirement of SR 22, the cost may prove to be a financial prohibition to driving.
Although apparently less serious than a regular DUI, a minor DUI has very similar, if not identical, consequences as an adult DUI conviction. Protecting a minor from the most severe consequences requires a knowledgeable DUI lawyer who is committed to the protection of your rights and license.