What is Underage DUI?
Arizona law has a special type of DUI for underage drinkers who are caught behind the wheel with alcohol in their system. The criminal code for this law is A.R.S. § 4-244(34). While regular DUIs require the state to prove that you are either impaired or have a minimum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%, an underage DUI (or “baby DUI” as it is sometimes called) only requires that you have the slightest amount of alcohol in your system.
This means that if you are under 21 and pulled over for DUI, you can be cited for underage DUI even if you are not impaired and have only a small amount of alcohol in your system. Literally, a few sips of beer could put you over the limit for an underage DUI.
IMPORTANT: As you might expect, because Arizona takes DUI laws very seriously there is no exception for underage DUI. Arizona has a no-tolerance policy for minors who drink and drive. Having a strong DUI defense attorney on your side can be the difference between a conviction and or a dismissal. DUI cases are complicated and require a skilled attorney who knows the ins and outs of Arizona DUI law.
If you or your child has been charged with an under age DUI, a good DUI attorney may be able to get the charges reduced, penalties lessened, or even get your case dismissed due to police errors while illegally obtaining evidence.
ARS 4-244(34) Defined
The law that prohibits underage drinking and driving is A.R.S. § 4-244(34). This law makes it a crime “for a person under twenty-one years of age to drive or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while there is any spirituous liquor in the person’s body.”
Penalties for Underage DUI
Unlike a regular DUI charge, underage DUI does not have mandatory minimum jail time. If this is your first offense, there is a good chance that you will be given probation. However, a minor can still be sentenced by the court if convicted to:
- Up to six months in jail.
- Fines of up to $2,500.
- Mandatory two-year driver’s license suspension.
- Mandatory drug and alcohol counseling.
- Mandatory drug and alcohol testing.
- Community service.
- The mandatory use of a ignition interlock device in your vehicle for two years after your license is reinstated.
One of the most burdensome legal consequences for many young drivers will be the mandatory license suspension. Especially in Arizona, where mass transit is not readily available and driving is essential for many to conduct their daily lives, this can be a huge penalty. A defense attorney may be able to convince the judge to allow the MVD to issue a restricted driving permit, which will allow you to and from school, work, and any court-ordered alcohol classes during the two-year suspension period.
Mandatory 2-Year Driver License Suspension for Underage DUI
As discussed above, probably the harshest consequence for a Baby DUI is the mandatory license suspension. A.R.S. 28-3322(A) states, “The [Motor Vehicle Department] shall immediately suspend the driver license or privilege to drive or refuse to issue a driver license or privilege to drive of a person who commits a violation of section 4-244, paragraph 34 [i.e., the Baby DUI statute] while the person is eighteen, nineteen or twenty years of age on receipt of the record of the person’s conviction for a violation of section 4-244, paragraph 34 for a period of two years.”
A.R.S. 28-3322(B), provides some relief to this punishment in the form of a restricted license. But the restricted license is not a guarantee. It is within the discretion of the court, so you or your attorney will have to convince the judge that sentences you to a Baby DUI to order to receive this privilege. That portion of the statute says, “If ordered by the court, the department shall restrict the person’s privilege to drive between the person’s home, school and place of employment during specified periods of time according to the person’s school and employment schedule.”
If a person convicted of an Underage DUI receives a restricted license, MVD will require the driver to install a special ignition interlock restricted license. This will require the driver to install an ignition interlock device on his car in order to operate the vehicle. An ignition interlock device (or IID), requires the driver of a car to blow into the device to show that no alcohol is in his system prior to being able to operate the vehicle.
Other Consequences for Underage DUI
Unfortunately, the consequences of a DUI do not end with the legal fines and penalties. A DUI conviction will also have consequences for other areas of your life that will cost you more money and otherwise make your life more difficult. These include:
- Insurance companies may refuse to insure a minor who is on a restricting driving permit.
- If insurance companies do provide coverage, your yearly insurance premiums will increase by about $3000 a year for 3 -5 years. This can amount to over $15,000 of extra insurance premiums that you will have to pay to drive.
- Limitation of employment prospects.
- Limitation of educational opportunities and revocation of scholarships.
- Interruption of your current educational and career goals.
Regular and Aggravated DUI Charges for Underage Drivers
If you are under 21 and are driving while impaired to the slightest degree by alcohol or have a BAC of 0.08% or greater, then you can also be charged with a regular DUI. This means you will face all the penalties that somebody over 21 would face. This includes mandatory jail time, two-year license suspension, fine, ignition interlock device installation, alcohol screening and classes, probation, and community service.
Your age will not protect you from a regular DUI charge, if you have a high enough BAC. In fact, if aggravating factors are present, you may even face felony aggravated DUI charges. This can come with very serious consequences, and the last thing that you need as you begin your life is to have the burden of a felony conviction hanging over your head and making it very difficult to get a job.
Related Charges to Underage Drinking and Driving
If you have been charged with underage DUI, then you likely could be facing other criminal charges, each with their own legal penalties.
- Underage Consumption of Alcohol
- Possession of Alcohol by a Minor
- Presenting a Fake ID to Purchase Alcohol
It is illegal for anyone under 21 to possess or consume alcohol. If you are pulled over and have alcohol in your car, you may also be charged with minor in possession or consumption of alcohol. This is true even if the alcoholic beverage is unopened. Under ARS 4-244(9), minor in possession of alcohol is a crime as is the related charge of minor in consumption of alcohol, governed by ARS 4-244(41). Both crimes are eligible for jail time, fines, probation, and license suspension.
It is also a class 1 misdemeanor under ARS 4-421(L) to present a fake ID to purchase alcohol. If you are under 21 and use a fake ID to buy alcohol, then you could face harsh penalties, including jail time and fines.
Defenses to Underage DUI
If you are charged with underage DUI, then an experienced DUI defense lawyer can help you. You will receive a free consultation to discuss the facts surrounding your underage DUI charges and we will discuss all possible defenses to the charges against you.
Potential DUI defenses include:
- Denial of Right to Counsel: The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution affords everybody arrested for a crime the right to an attorney. If the police interfere with that right, such as by unreasonably delaying your ability to speak to an attorney during your arrest, then you may be eligible to have your charges dismissed for violation of your rights.
- No Reasonable Suspicion to Stop: As American citizens, we all have the right to be free from unwarranted intrusion into our lives from the police. This is one the key basis for our liberty. The police can’t just pull you over on hunch or random suspicion. They need to have some reason to believe that you may have committed a crime. Otherwise, we would live in a police state where you could be pulled over for no reason whatsoever. Because of this important liberty interest, if it is found that the traffic stop the police conducted was illegal, then all the evidence obtained after that traffic stop must be tossed out by the court. This usually means that the state will have no evidence against you, and they will be forced to dismiss the charges.
- No “Actual Physical Control”: You can be arrested for a DUI in Arizona even if you are not driving the car. If it is determined that you are in “actual physical control” of the car, you may be charged. However, these cases often have holes in them that can be attacked by an aggressive defense attorney. A lot of factors go into whether you are in actual physical control of the car. There are no black-and-white guidelines. If your charges are based off this theory, you may have a good chance of fighting these charges.
- Improper Field Sobriety Tests: According to the National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the police should not give field sobriety tests under certain circumstances. These include: if the suspect is wearing shows with heels higher than 2 inches, if the suspect is over fifty pounds overweight, if the suspect has difficulty balancing due to a disability, or if the suspect has ankle, back, hip, or knee injuries. If the officer conducted the field sobriety tests anyway and these factors are present, then the accuracy of the tests can be challenged in court.
How We Can Help
If you have been charged with underage DUI, you should consult with an attorney with experience specifically in DUIs to see how you can fight these charges. After carefully analyzing the facts of your case and conducting an investigation into the evidence against you, we can fight to obtain the best possible outcome for you. This may include:
- Getting your charges reduced in a favorable plea agreement.
- Getting your charges dismissed.
- If pretrial negotiations fail, we stand ready to fight for an acquittal at trial.
- Protect your driving privileges and reduce penalties against you.
We have an established track record of success in DUIs. Stewart Salwin is a former prosecutor and has handled DUIs from both sides of the aisle. He knows how the prosecution thinks and what types of evidence is persuasive to the prosecutor to agree to get the charges lowered or dropped. If the case goes to trial, he also knows the best defenses to maximize your chances of a successful outcome.
If you’ve been arrested for an underage DUI, there is hope! Call the Salwin Law Group today, and we will begin to work on preparing your defense immediately. We serve the greater-Phoenix area, including Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, and Goodyear. You will be kept informed and have the process explained every step of the way. Together, we can help you get your life back.
Call Salwin Law Group to schedule your free consultation at (480) 702-1789.