Underage DWI / DUI in Virginia: Young drivers find themselves held to a higher standard than over-21 drivers, but they face the same severe penalties.
November 6th, 2015
Virginia has a law that specifically targets underage drinking and driving. This law is similar to a regular DWI / DUI, but it is much more stringent in its application. In effect, the under-21 driver is held to a higher standard than an over-21 driver, yet they face the same severe penalties.
(Note: Different terminology is often used to describe the same thing. “DUI” stands for “driving under the influence.” “DWI” stands for “driving while intoxicated.” Technically, in Virginia, the offense is “DWI.” In practice, however, the terms DWI and DUI are used interchangeably to refer to the same offense. It should be noted that the charge of “Underage DWI” has nothing to do with intoxication. Nevertheless, because of the similarity to the regular DWI offense, the charge is commonly described as “Underage DWI.”)
Nearly everyone is familiar with basic DWI laws: it is illegal to drive while intoxicated. Most people are also familiar with the measurement of blood alcohol content (BAC) and a “legal limit” for DWI. In Virginia, the “legal limit” for a regular DWI is a BAC of 0.08. Without getting too far into the details, if a driver has a BAC of 0.08 or higher, the court will presume that they were driving while intoxicated.
For drivers under the age of 21, Virginia law is different. The specific law can be found in the Virginia Code §18.2-266.1. The law prohibits an underage driver from driving after illegally consuming alcohol. No proof intoxication is required. Furthermore, for the underage driver, the “legal limit” is only 0.02! If an underage driver has a BAC between 0.02 and 0.08, the court will presume that they consumed alcohol illegally. A BAC of 0.02 is significantly less than a BAC of 0.08!
To highlight the difference, what would happen for an over-21 driver with a BAC of 0.02? If an over-21 driver had a BAC of 0.02, the court would presume that the driver was NOT intoxicated while they were driving. In effect, it would be almost impossible for an over-21 driver to be found guilty of DWI with a BAC of 0.02.
What about the penalties? Even though the law holds underage drivers to a higher standard, the penalties are nearly identical to a regular DWI!
Historically, the penalties for Underage DWI were significantly less severe than a regular DWI. That all changed in 2011. In 2011, the General Assembly amended the law to a Class 1 Misdemeanor.
Under the current law, the potential consequences of Underage DWI are as follows:
Up to 12 months in jail;
Up to a $2500 fine;
A mandatory 1-year suspension of driving privileges;
Either a mandatory minimum fine of $500, OR a mandatory 50 hours of community service;
The court may order the completion of the VASAP program.
The court may grant a restricted license if VASAP is attended.
In some ways, the penalties for Underage DWI are more severe than a regular DWI. For example, conviction for a basic DWI (BAC 0.08) does not impose the $500 mandatory fine or 50 hours community service.
It should be noted that underage drivers are also bound by the regular DWI statutes. If an underage driver is intoxicated (or has a BAC above 0.08), the regular DWI statute will apply.
If you have been charged with Underage DWI (or “Underage Drinking and Driving), do not lose hope. Even though the Underage DWI statute is harsh on younger drivers, the police are still required to fulfill many technical requirements to prove the charge. These cases can be very technical and challenging to defend. Make sure that your case is reviewed, thoroughly.
If you have been charged with Underage DWI or any other criminal charge, please contact my office for a free consultation.
There are several different legal strategies to consider to defend against criminal charges. I can review your situation and explain how I will defend you in court.
No matter what, I will stand by you through this process. You will not have to navigate the system alone.
Please, do not assume that you can handle the charge on your own! At the very least, I can evaluate your case and help you understand all of your options. You have nothing to lose by calling.
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