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Can a Teen Get a DUI for Driving Drunk?

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More than one million people are arrested for driving drunk each year—and not all of them are adults. Ten percent of teens admit that they've operated a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol, and alcohol plays a role in 17% of fatal car crashes that involve male or female drivers under the age of 21. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that figure jumps from 17% to 25% if you focus exclusively on teenage boys who drive while drunk. All 50 states have zero-tolerance policies in place for teen drinking, which means a teen can be arrested if he or she is caught driving with a blood alcohol content level that exceeds 0.00 to 0.02. The exact level that constitutes a teen DUI depends on the state where the violation occurs.

What Is Blood Alcohol Content Level?

Blood alcohol content level, commonly called "BAC," refers to how much alcohol remains in your blood after you consume an alcoholic beverage. If your state has set the BAC level at 0.00 for teens, that means you can't have any alcohol—not even a sip—before you operate a motor vehicle. A BAC of 0.02, which is the highest acceptable level some states have set for teens, means that 1/2000 of the fluid in your blood is composed of alcohol. 

If a 150-pound male consumes one drink, such as a can of beer or a glass of wine, his BAC may jump to 0.03. That means that just one drink can make your BAC high enough to constitute a DUI in every single state. Weight influences BAC, so a petite female or thin male may have a BAC higher than 0.03 after one drink.

What Are the Potential Legal Consequences for Driving Drunk?

Teens caught driving under the influence are subject to many of the same consequences as adults. The severity of the consequences depends on the following factors:

  • Whether the teen was a first-time offender
  • How high the teen's BAC was above the state's legal limit for minors
  • Whether driving under the influence resulted in injuries, fatalities, or property damage

When a teen is charged with a DUI, a court date is scheduled with a judge. The judge reviews the evidence, including police reports and personal statements from alleged victims, to determine a suitable punishment. Here are some legal consequences that may occur when a teen is charged with a DUI:

  • A stint in jail or juvenile hall, depending on the teen's age
  • Community service
  • Hefty fines
  • Probation
  • House arrest
  • Mandatory treatment at a rehabilitation center for drug or alcohol abuse
  • Motor-vehicle license suspension

The judge may issue one or more of the consequences above, or he might take other legal action against the teen. In some cases, parents or guardians may also be charged with a crime if they provided the alcohol that contributed to the teen's DUI charges.

Does a Teen Charged with a DUI Need a Lawyer?

If you are a teen facing DUI charges or the parent of a teen who was caught driving drunk, it's vital that you hire a reputable DUI defense lawyer to handle the case. A DUI has temporary consequences, such as probation or license suspension, but it can also have a detrimental effect on the future. A teen charged with a DUI may find it difficult to apply for scholarships or educational loans, get accepted to college, or find a job after high school. Some landlords check criminal records, so your teen might not be able to find a place to live as an adult.

Luckily, a DUI attorney knows the ins and outs of your state's teen DUI laws and can help convince the judge to go easy. A DUI lawyer can even request for the judge to expunge the criminal charges for the DUI after a set amount of time if the teen complies with specific guidelines established by the court. This erases evidence of the crime, making it easier for your teen to pursue future ambitions.