DWI Defense News: Underage Drinking and Driving Arrests Are Not to be Ignored

With the school season well under way, high school students are in the midst of some of their most important years as they work on making the grade while preparing to go to college in only a few years’ time. For many parents of teenage children, high school — and even middle school or junior high — can be fraught with trials; not all of them academic. For some young adults, the temptations of alcohol and drugs can be formidable. Sadly, for some, there can be a failure to grasp the all-too-real consequences of their actions; parents of such teens should be aware of these as well.

While being young and impressionable, many school-age kids mimic their friends and family. Although most parents and other adults do a decent job of presenting good examples, others may not. In the end, however, the choice is not with the parents, but often with the young individuals who will ultimately feel the effects later in life. As New Jersey drunken driving defense lawyers, my colleagues and I are more than familiar with the numerous ways in which a person can end up on the wrong side of the law regarding an alcohol- or drug-related offense.

Drinking and driving is one common way in which motorists of all ages can run afoul of the police. For those underage drivers, a DWI is outlined in our state’s legal statutes (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.14), which read in part, that any individual who is under the legal age to purchase alcohol, and who operates a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of just 0.01 percent (and less than 0.08 percent) shall forfeit his driving privileges for a period of between 30 to 90 days. Even those who have yet to get their driver’s license will have to wait a similar period before being allowed to drive in New Jersey following a conviction for underage DWI.

There are, of course, elements of proof associated with this type of offense. For example, the local prosecutor’s office will have to prove three separate points to the court. The first is proving that the person in question was actually operating a motor vehicle. For some who may wonder, the term “operate” applies not only to driving on a public roadway, but can take place anywhere. In other words, sitting in the driver’s seat of a running vehicle in one’s parent’s driveway could easily meet this requirement under the law.

Secondly, it must be shown definitively that the accused was under the state’s legal drinking age at the time of said vehicle operation. This may not be difficult to prove from the prosecution’s point of view, especially if the defendant already has driver’s license. The third piece of required proof is the alleged BAC of over 0.01 percent to under 0.08 percent. Police generally obtain a BAC measurement via a breath test using the Alcotest 7110 (or through a direct blood sample taken at a hospital if an injury has occurred as a result of a related car accident).

As part of the typically authorized punishment, New Jersey courts have the power to suspend a convicted offender’s driver’s license, and/or prevent the future obtainment of a driver’s license if the DWI offense is particularly serious. It is understood by drunk driving attorneys that courts will be generally much more lenient toward an underage drinker (provided he or she is under the 0.08 BAC limit) than those legal drinking age adults who are arrested for a typical drunk driving offense.

When it comes to fines, the lawmakers in Trenton have been more concerned with rehabilitation of underage offenders than applying heavy fines, as is the case with most adult DWI defendants who have been found guilty of drunken driving. The maximum fine that may be imposed (per N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.14) is $50 or a jail term not to exceed 15 days (or sometimes both). There is also a community service component that the courts can apply ranging from 15 to 30 days (or 90 to 180 hours).

I goes without saying that any person young or old who drinks and drives will find the police to be less than sympathetic. However, from the court’s standpoint, there are certain mitigating factors depending on the circumstances and scope of the charges. This is why parents of teens who have been charged with underage drinking and driving should seriously consider talking with a qualified DWI defense attorney. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are ready to discuss your child’s situation and help you to understand his or her rights under New Jersey law.