According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, underage drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal road crash compared to experienced drivers. Teen drivers are also 17 times more likely to die in a crash when driving with a BAC of .08%. Closer home, young drivers are responsible for more than half of the road accidents witnessed in Texas.
Texas is among the 50 US states that strictly enforce zero-tolerance laws against underage drunk driving. Underage drivers can be arrested for the offense if the investigating officer so much as detects an alcoholic odor on you.
A conviction for violating the zero-tolerance laws can lead to severe consequences, including loss of your license, community service, fines, and jail time. Fighting these charges can relieve you from the burden of a conviction and the related consequences.
You should never face the charges of underage drunk driving alone. Contact Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer to represent you in your case.
Understanding Texas Zero Tolerance Laws
Drunk driving is a problem that plagues modern American society. Drinking has become a social activity, which also increases the chances that someone will drink and drive. In response, states have introduced laws against drunk driving. Under these laws, it becomes a crime to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher.
The laws also change depending on different driver cases, for instance, minor and commercial drivers. Minors are particularly an at-risk group due to their inexperience on the road.
In response to the growing numbers of teenage deaths due to drunk driving accidents, states introduced zero-tolerance laws.
These laws prohibit minors from driving with any detectable amount of alcohol in your system. Zero tolerance laws are enforcement of the state laws, which prohibit minors (anyone under 21 years) from purchasing, possessing, or drinking alcohol.
This means, therefore, that the law does not expect you to be drinking in the first place. These laws apply even if you are not intoxicated. Violating these laws comes with severe penalties, which include fines and jail time.
Police officers are on the frontline in enforcing the observance of zero tolerance laws. They can stop any vehicle for a traffic offense if the officer has reasonable suspicion to warrant the stop.
Once the officer stops you, he or she might begin a DWI investigation if he has reasonable suspicion that you are driving drunk.
The officer can arrest you for violating zero-tolerance laws if:
- You have an alcoholic odor on you or in your car.
- You fail sobriety tests.
- You have a detectable alcohol content (from the results of a portable Breathalyzer)
- You lack the mental and physical capacity to drive a vehicle safely.
Once the officer arrests you, he or she may take the following steps:
- Tow your car
- Take you to a county jail or the police department for a breath test.
- Take you to a hospital for a blood test.
As a minor, you are subject to the implied consent law. This means that you must provide a breath or blood sample (as determined by the arresting officer) if you are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Refusal to provide a blood or breath sample will result in the suspension of your driver’s license for 180 for a first refusal and two years for the second and subsequent refusals.
Consequences of Violating Zero Tolerance Laws
Being arrested for underage drinking and driving can be a frightening experience, especially since this could be your first encounter with law enforcement. The consequences you face will depend on several factors, including:
- Your age
- Similar violations in the past
- Your BAC level (you could be charged with driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol)
DUI laws in Texas apply specifically to minors. In this case, the prosecution needs to prove that you were driving with a detectable amount of alcohol in your system.
However, if you are charged with a DWI, the prosecution has to prove that you were intoxicated or your BAC was above the legal limit.
If you are under 17 years, the penalties will be as follows:
- A first offense will be charged as a class c misdemeanor. The penalties will include a 20-40 hours of community service, a fine of up $500 and suspension of your driver’s license for 60 – 180 days. You and your parents might also have to attend an alcohol awareness course.
- The court will charge the second offense as a class C misdemeanor with penalties such as a maximum fine of $500, 40-60 hours of community service, attendance in an alcohol awareness program, and suspension of your driver’s license for 120 days to two years.
- The third offense attracts a fine not exceeding $500, 40-60 hours of community service and suspension of your driver’s license for between 180 days and two years.
If you are aged between 17 and 21 years, the penalties will be as follows:
- For a first offense, which is a class B misdemeanor, the penalties will include a fine of up to $2,000, jail term of 72 hours to 180 days, and suspension of your driver's license for a year. You could serve 90 days of the license suspension if the court orders community service, and you install an IID.
- The court charges the second offense as a class A misdemeanor. The penalties for the offense will include a fine not exceeding $4000, a jail term of 30 days to one year, and suspension of your driver’s license for 180 days to 18 months.
- The third offense is a third-degree felony with a fine of up to $10,000, a term of two to ten years in the state prison, and suspension of your driver's license for between 180 days to two years.
You could be charged with violating the zero-tolerance laws even if you were not driving. Some of these offenses include:
- Attempting to or purchasing alcohol
- Identifying yourself falsely as 21 or older to a person selling or serving an alcoholic beverage
- Possessing or consuming an alcoholic beverage
The penalties in non-driving alcohol-related offenses by minors include:
- For a first offense (Class C misdemeanor), you will pay a fine not exceeding $500, serve 8-12 hours of community service and attend an alcohol awareness class. You will also have your license suspended for thirty days.
- For a second offense (Class C misdemeanor), you will pay a fine of up to $500, serve 20-40 hours of community service, and attend an alcohol awareness class. The court will also suspend your license for sixty days.
- The third offense for minors between ten and seventeen years will result in a fine of up to $500, 20-40 hours of community service, and suspension of your driver’s license for 180 days.
- For minors between 17 and 21 years, the third offense is a class B misdemeanor whose penalties include a fine of between $250 and $2000, 40 to 60 hours of community service, a jail term of up to 180 days and suspension of your driver’s license for 180 days.
The law allows minors to be charged as adults for alcohol or drug-related driving offenses. Such charges are common when the minor causes harm to another person, for example, if he or she caused an accident that caused the injury or death of another person.
When charged as an adult, the minor will face the following charges for a DWI:
- The first DWI offense is a class B misdemeanor with penalties such as a fine of not more than $2000, a jail term of 72 hours to 180 days, and suspension of your driver’s license for 90 days to one year. You may qualify for probation if this is your first offense. On the other hand, if you had an open container of an alcoholic beverage, you will spend a minimum of six days in jail.
- The second DWI offense is a class A misdemeanor with penalties such as a fine not exceeding $4000, a jail term of thirty days to one year, and a license suspension for 180 days to two years.
- The third and subsequent DWI offenses are third-degree felonies in Texas. The penalties for the offense include a fine not above $10,000, a term of two to ten years in the state penitentiary, and suspension of your driver’s license for 180 days to two years.
- If you assaulted someone while intoxicated, you would be charged with intoxication assault, which is a third-degree felony. The penalties, in this case, include a maximum fine of $10,000, suspension of your driver’s license for 180 days to two years, and a two to a ten-year sentence in the state penitentiary.
- If someone dies due to the minor’s drunk driving, he or she will be charged with intoxication manslaughter, which is a second-degree felony. The penalties include a sentence of two to twenty years in the state penitentiary, suspension of your driver’s license for up to two years and a fine of not more than $10,000.
Minors are also exposed to collateral consequences of violating the zero-tolerance laws. Some of these consequences include:
- A DUI conviction will stay on your record for ten years, which will negatively affect your educational and career pursuits. Some colleges frown upon applicants with a criminal record, which means you could miss your desired school due to the conviction. Getting educational financing and housing could also be a problem with a criminal record.
- Most employers conduct background checks before hiring. Most of them will avoid hiring you if you have a criminal record to protect their reputation.
- You are also likely to pay more in insurance premiums; drunk driving makes you a high-risk driver; therefore, insurance companies must charge more to cover the risk to which you expose them.
Texas is one of the states with the most stringent DUI laws. The laws are even tougher for minor drivers who must adhere to strict zero-tolerance laws.
However, getting charged with underage drunk driving does not automatically damn you to a conviction. With the help of an experienced juvenile DUI defense attorney, you can fight the charges you are facing and secure your freedom.
Some of the defenses you can use include:
1. Unlawful Traffic Stop
The information or evidence of wrongdoing gathered from an illegal stop cannot be the basis of a criminal conviction.
Police officers must have reasonable suspicion that you are committing a traffic offense or are driving dangerously, usually based on the manner of driving to stop a vehicle. They cannot rely on a hunch to stop your car.
If your DWI defense attorney finds that the traffic stop was illegal, he or she will file a motion to suppress the evidence gathered after the stop.
In most cases, if the court approves the suppression of this evidence, the prosecution will have to dismiss your charges.
2. Lack of probable Cause
The arresting officer must have probable cause to begin a DWI investigation and arrest. For instance, if he or she detects an alcoholic odor, he or she can legally pursue a DWI investigation. However, if you appear okay and show no signs of being under the influence of alcohol, then he or she cannot begin a DUI investigation or arrest you.
3. Unreliable Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests have an accuracy level of 65% when done correctly. They are more successful in an ideal situation. However, most of our lives are far from ideal, meaning that you are likely to fail most of these tests even if you are sober.
Factors such as your dressing, fatigue, and weight can affect how well you perform in these tests. If the officer cites the evidence of intoxication as being your failure in the field sobriety tests, you can challenge this evidence to get lesser charges or a dismissal.
4. Lawful Possession of Alcohol
The law prohibits the purchase, possession, and consumption of alcohol by minors. However, there are exceptions such as:
- You were in the presence of a legal guardian, parent, or adult spouse.
- You are employed in a business that serves alcohol (you are, however, not required to drink)
- You are working with a law enforcement official in a sting operation.
Hiring a lawyer is one of the steps that make a huge difference in the outcome of your case. When hiring, you must find one who has worked with juvenile DUI and DWI offenders. Having an experienced and dedicated lawyer on your side can help in the development of a legal defenses strategy with one of the following results:
- Dismissal of the charges
- Deferred adjudication
- Lesser charges after a plea deal
The consequences of a criminal conviction for a minor are greatly significant. The effects can stay with you for a long time and affect your future negatively. However, the law gives juvenile offenders a chance to avoid a criminal conviction through deferred adjudication.
Deferred adjudication is a plea deal in which you plead guilty or no contest in exchange for alternative action.
Usually, you will go through probation (or community supervision), educational programs, and community service.
Most first and second-time juvenile offenders qualify for deferred adjudication since the goal of the justice system is to rehabilitate these offenders into law-abiding members of the society.
Contrary to what many think, a deferred adjudication does not clean your record; the charge will still appear, but you will not be convicted for the offense, that is, once you successfully meet all the conditions.
Some of the conditions the court might set include:
- Meeting with a probation officer.
- Paying the associated costs and fees
- Community service
- Mandatory counseling
- Avoiding committing new crimes
- Refraining from drugs and alcohol
Violating these conditions will trigger an arrest warrant against you. The judge will decide whether to revoke the adjudication and proceed with the trial, impose additional requirements, or give a warning.
If the judge decides to proceed with the case, he or she will enter your guilty plea, and you will be sentenced.
Before you decide on accepting the plea deal, you must consult with an experienced juvenile DWI attorney. Deferred adjudication comes with its risks. For instance, the conditions to which you must adhere are usually strict. Breaking these conditions increases the chances that you will be sentenced. You also have to cover the related costs, which can be quite expensive.
Another disadvantage of deferred adjudication is that the charges will still show up on your criminal record, which could affect you negatively.
However, you can petition for an order of disclosure to prevent public access to the records. You can file the petition soon after you complete the community supervision program.
Administrative License Revocation Hearings
One of the consequences of violating zero-tolerance laws in Texas is the suspension of your driving license. The period of license suspension depends on your criminal history and the details of the present violation.
However, the suspension follows a similar procedure; when the officer arrests you for an alcohol-related driving violation, he or she will replace your license with a notice of suspension.
You must request a hearing within 15 or 20 days. You have 15 days since the day you were arrested for requesting the hearing if you refused to submit a test sample. If you submitted the test sample, you have twenty days from the day you receive the BAC results to request the hearing.
Your license will be suspended forty days after you receive the notice of suspension (usually forty days after your arrest). You can request the hearing through writing or via phone. Your attorney could request the hearing on your behalf. If you request the hearing by phone, note the date you requested the hearing and the person to whom you spoke.
You will receive a notice of hearing, which will specify the date, time, and location of the hearing. You have the chance to reset the hearing at least five days before the date of the hearing.
Once you request the hearing, you must begin preparing for the hearing to protect your driver's license. You or your attorney can request discovery to get access to records that you will use to build a case.
You will also need to find witnesses for the hearing. This might include sending out subpoenas. On the day of the hearing, you can use several defenses to challenge the license suspension.
Some of these defenses will include:
- The officer did not have the right to stop, detain, or arrest you for a Dui. Where the officer cannot show probable cause for the three activities, then the arrest was unlawful, and any actions taken afterward, are illegal.
- You did not refuse to submit a test
- The officer did not ask you for a sample
- You have a medical condition that showed a false BAC
The judge will decide whether to grant or deny a suspension. If he or she grants the suspension, you will lose your driving privileges based on your criminal history and your age. You can expect to lose these privileges for between 90 and 180 days.
If the judge denies the suspension, then:
- You will receive your driver’s license
- The DPS will reinstate your driver’s license
- Rescind the order barring the issuance of a driver’s license
If the judge grants the license suspension, you can appeal the decision within thirty days of the final decision.
Find a DWI Defense Attorney Near Me
Texas is strict on violators of zero tolerance laws. The punishments of the violations increase with subsequent violations and can lead to severe consequences. However, you can work with an experienced DWI attorney to help you fight the charges against you.
Previously working with many underage drivers charged with DWI related offenses has given the Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer expertise in handling similar cases. We not only fight against these charges, but we also provide your son or daughter with the support he or she needs during the trial and advice on avoiding similar violations.
Contact us at 817-470-2128 for a consultation and evaluation of your case.