A charge of driving under the influence is a serious charge, but the stakes are often higher for drivers convicted of DUI while under the age of 21. Virginia takes underage DUI extremely seriously, even creating a separate code section specific to underage drivers.
If you or someone you care about has been arrested for underage DUI in Charlottesville or the surrounding area, experienced Virginia DUI attorney Bryan J. Jones knows how to defend the unique situations faced by underage drivers and college students who face additional penalties at school as the result of the DUI charge.
Underage DUI in Virginia
A driver under the age of 21 can be convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol if he or she has a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.02% or higher but less than 0.08%.
Unlike a DUI charge for those age 21 and over, the Virginia prosecutor does not have to prove that the underage driver was actually intoxicated. The prosecutor must only show that the underage driver was between the applicable BAC range.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove
The prosecutor in your case is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That the driver was under the age of 21 at the time of the arrest; and
- That the driver consumed alcohol and operated a motor vehicle; or
- That the driver's BAC was 0.02% or higher but less than 0.08%.
The use of a breathalyzer is usually employed by Virginia law enforcement to help determine if a driver has been drinking and to what level that driver is intoxicated.
If there is no proof of BAC (such as when a driver refuses to consent to the test), other testimony establishing that the underage driver drank before getting behind the wheel can be used. This may include evidence like:
- odor of alcohol;
- open containers in the vehicle;
- bloodshot eyes; or
- slurred speech.
Virginia Zero Tolerance Laws
Like most states, Virginia has in place "zero tolerance" laws that specifically forbid the underage consumption of alcohol (or drugs) and then getting behind the wheel. The zero tolerance part applies to the fact that the prosecutor does not have to prove intoxication.
In fact, you could feel 100% sober, and be more than OK to drive... if you were 21 or older. However, for those under 21, the zero tolerance policy of the Commonwealth applies, regardless of whether you were sober enough to be safe to drive.
Under 21, but 0.08% or Higher
If you are under the age of 21, but you have a BAC of 0.08% or higher, you will be convicted of a typical DUI. A typical DUI charge can have substantially higher penalties, like jail or prison time. This is especially true if you blow well above 0.08%.
Virginia Penalties for Underage DUI
After a person has been arrested for underage DUI, his or her license will be administratively suspended for 7 days if he or she had a BAC 0.02% or higher or if that person refused the breathalyzer test. The administrative suspension increases to 60 days for a second underage DUI offense.
If a person is convicted of underage DUI in the Commonwealth of Virginia, he or she is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Punishment will include:
- a mandatory minimum fine of $500.00; or
- a mandatory minimum of 50 hours of community service; and
- a driver's license suspension for one year.
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will also add 6 demerit points to the offender's driving record.
The driver is usually allowed to participate in the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP) and may then petition the court for a restricted license. The restricted license generally allows the driver to drive to work, school, medical appointments, and other necessary traveling.
Other Penalties You May Face
Certain related charges may also be brought against you, depending on the facts of the case, including:
- Minor in possession of alcohol;
- Using a fake ID to purchase alcohol;
- Giving alcohol to minors in the vehicle;
- Child endangerment if transporting minors in the vehicle.
University of Virginia Students & DUI
Many of those individuals who are under the age of 21 and are charged with underage DUI attend the University of Virginia here in Charlottesville. College students face unique challenges when hit with a DUI charge, but with experienced legal help, you can lessen the impact on your freedom and your life.
Home State License Suspension
For those whose home state is not Virginia and who have an out of state driver's license, it is possible that your home state will suspend your license there as well, not just in Virginia. This could mean you are not able to travel home, or if you drive while in your home state, you could face additional charges there.
Make sure you know what your suspension says you may or may not do. Your attorney can help.
Telling Your Parents
Students are often reluctant to tell their parents, or for their parents to find out, about a pending underage DUI charge. Family involvement can often be helpful in protecting your freedoms, as they can help you with the cost of an experienced attorney, help you travel when needed, and provide emotional support.
Additional University Sanctions
If you are charged with underage DUI, especially if the driving occurred on UVA's campus, you will likely face additional sanctions from the university in addition to any criminal charges and penalties. UVA has regulations that pertain to student conduct and how violations are handled.
Every case is different, but some students have faced:
- Revocation of parking privileges;
- Loss of scholarships;
- Suspension; or
With an experienced attorney on your side, you can negotiate with the university to avoid extremely harsh penalties and work instead on moving forward with your life.
Consult a Charlottesville DUI Attorney
A charge of underage DUI can have serious consequences, but with the right legal help, you can protect your rights. You need Virginia DUI attorney Bryan J. Jones to defend those rights. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.