A charge of driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol is a serious offense no matter what your age is. In the state of Washington, special rules apply for drivers who are under the age of 21 and intoxicated while operating a vehicle. This includes a very low legal limit and separate penalties. If convicted for DUI as a minor, it can greatly affect your life, finances, and freedom.
Experienced Washington DUI attorney James Curtis at The Curtis Firm can guide you through the criminal process of your underage DUI case.
Underage DUI in Washington
Under Washington state law, it is illegal for a person under the age of 21 to drive while intoxicated. This is often commonly referred to as "minor DUI." While drivers the age of 21 and over have a "legal limit" of 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC), the limit is considerably lower for drivers under the age of 21.
If a person is under the age of 21, the "legal limit" is 0.02% BAC. A single beer may cause a person to exceed the 0.02% BAC limit. This is especially true when a person is a smaller build, has not eaten in a while, or consumes alcohol with higher alcohol content.
Underage DUI v. DUI in Washington
An underage DUI is also different from a DUI in a number of ways. While the BAC limit is different, as shown above, a prior conviction of underage DUI is not considered a "prior offense" for purposes of DUI sentencing. A minor DUI is a different charge and will not be used to elevate a later DUI. For example, if you were convicted of an underage DUI at the age of 20, and then convicted of a DUI at the age of 22, the underage DUI at the age of 20 will not be considered a prior offense for purposes of the DUI at the age of 22.
That said, while the underage DUI will not be considered a "prior" for purposes of charging you, a judge may consider it to determine your sentence.
An underage DUI also does not require a showing that you were intoxicated, just that you were above a 0.02% BAC is sufficient. This is unique because you could have been completely fine to drive but were charged nonetheless. There are ways to defend your case and an experienced Washington DUI lawyer can help.
Minor DUI: Mandatory License Suspension
If you are arrested for a minor DUI, there is an automatic driver's license suspension of at least 90 days. It is imposed by the Washington Department of Licensing. This suspension is based on Washington's implied consent law.
This automatic suspension can be contested, and you should fight back against this automatic suspension as soon as possible. To do so, you can file a request for a hearing with the Department of Licensing. The request must be filed with the Department of Licensing within 20 days of the arrest so that you are granted a hearing.
Any time spent under a driver's license suspension for an administrative suspension can be applied to the criminal suspension if imposed later.
This suspension may also lead to the requirement of "high risk" auto insurance. This is called SR 22 insurance, and the Department of Licensing can require it in order for you to regain your driving privileges.
Can a Minor Be Charged with Adult DUI?
Yes. If a person under the age of 21 has a BAC that measures 0.08% or higher or if the driver's marijuana THC level exceeds five nanograms per milliliter of blood, he or she can be arrested and charged with a typical DUI. Just because a person is under the age of 21 does not mean that person is entitled to special treatment under the law.
Penalties for Underage DUI in Washington
If a person is charged with underage DUI, he or she faces a possible simple misdemeanor conviction. While not as serious as a gross misdemeanor or felony, it is still a serious charge that requires a strong legal defense.
If convicted of the crime, a person faces the following potential penalties:
- up to a maximum of 90 days in jail (or in a juvenile detention center if the suspect is under the age of 18 years old);
- a maximum possible fine of $1,000; and
- up to a maximum of two years of probation.
These penalties can have a serious effect on your life, your finances, and your freedom.
Collateral Consequences of an Underage DUI Conviction
Besides the criminal penalties that may be imposed, other consequences can arise from a conviction for Underage DUI.
For example, those who are applying for college are analyzed with a fine-toothed comb. A criminal offense on your record can make it difficult to get into the college you want. Also, if your driver's license was suspended, it will affect your ability to get to work. If you cannot get to work, you will likely lose your job.
Many people do not think about these collateral consequences, but there are ways to defend your case and limit them.
Defending Your Underage DUI Case
To defend your underage DUI case, you can raise certain legal defenses that can cause your charges to be reduced or even dismissed. These include but are not limited to:
- Filing a Suppression Motion: When evidence is unconstitutionally obtained by Washington law enforcement that evidence can be kept out of trial. Without this evidence, the prosecutor may not be able to prove his or her case.
- Challenging Breath or Blood Tests: To prove underage DUI, the prosecutor must prove you had a BAC of 0.02% or higher. Challenging the accuracy of the blood or breath test can present doubt as to its accuracy.
- Raising Affirmative Defenses: Under Washington law, a person charged with minor DUI can raise the affirmative defense that he or she consumed the alcohol after driving but within 2 hours of driving.
Consult a Washington DUI Attorney
If you or someone you care about has been arrested for underage DUI in Tacoma or the surrounding area, you need an experienced Washington DUI attorney to defend your case and protect your constitutional rights.
Experienced Washington DUI attorney James Curtis at The Curtis Firm will defend your case strategically and aggressively, knowing that a conviction can be harmful to your future. Contact us today for a consultation. We gladly serve Pierce County, King County, Thurston County, Tacoma, Lakewood, and Spanaway.