Underage DWI Charges

You may expect law enforcement to be more lenient on younger drivers, but the state of North Carolina has zero tolerance for anyone under the age of 21 committing a DWI. It is already a crime under most circumstances to drink while under the age of 21 in all states, and the state imposes the same harsh penalties as adults, but with much stricter standards for judging impairment. While a BAC of 0.08 or greater will result in DWI charges above the age of 21, if you are below the age of 21 you can be convicted of underage DWI based on just the appearance of being impaired or a BAC over 0.01.

underage DWI mock car crash with teen drinking

How Law Enforcement Judges Underage Impairment

Often the signs of impairment officers use to justify arrest and charges are:

  • Erratic driving that caused you to be pulled over, such as weaving in and out of lanes, failing to stop at signals or signs or swerving while driving.
  • Visible signs of impairment such as slurred speech, lack of balance, inappropriate or incomprehensible responses to law enforcement questioning, bloodshot eyes and more.
  • Failing the field sobriety tests that officers use to see how impaired you are, which are the one-legged stand, walk-and-turn and horizontal gaze nystagmus tests.

With these extremely strict charges that law enforcement often tries to base on the arresting officer’s interpretations and assumptions alone. Often, police officers will rely on the fact that the defendant is young and will likely not know better to exercise their rights and avoid self-incrimination. If you or your child has been arrested for underage DWI, you will need a skilled attorney to pick apart law enforcement’s claims.

Penalties for Underage DWI

Underage DWI is considered a class 2 misdemeanor in North Carolina. The first conviction can result in:

  • Up to a $1000 fine
  • 1 -30 days community service work
  • Loss of your driver’s license for up to a year.

Those under the age of 18 convicted of a DWI are not eligible to request limited driving privileges as adults are for work or school purposes. If you are between 18 and 20, you may be able to request limited driving privileges only if you have a previously clean criminal record.

Like adult DWI, underage DWI carries a harsher punishment after every conviction. You can potentially be facing a jail sentence of up to 45 days and longer suspensions of your license. Additionally, like with adult DWI, these convictions can follow you even into adulthood. While there is potential to expunge underage DWI if you committed it before you turned 18, if cannot expunge an underage DWI conviction if you were 18 or older. These convictions will follow you to many areas of your life and can affect not only your driving privileges but your schooling, housing, and employment prospects as well.

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