Garden State DWI Defense: Even Underage Drivers Should Avoid a Drunk Driving Conviction

Everyone who holds a New Jersey driver’s license should know that a driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) charge is nothing to take lightly. In fact, drunken driving and drug DUI charges can carry with them severe consequences if a motorist is found guilty in a court of law. As Garden State drunk driving defense attorneys, my legal team is experienced in representing drivers who have been accused of these and other serious motor vehicle-related offenses.

One area of DWI law pertains to those drivers who have not yet reached legal drinking age, but for whatever reason have been charged with drunken driving. A person under the age of 21 can be convicted of DWI with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of just 0.01 percent or more. This may seem like a rather harsh lower limit (especially when compared to the “normal” 0.08 percent for drivers 21 years of age or over), however this is the law and anyone who is underage and driving should seriously consider the consequences of being caught with even this small amount of alcohol in their system.

The penalties for underage DWI are listed in the New Jersey legal statutes (under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.14). The law states that any person under legal drinking age who operates a car, truck or motorcycle with a BAC of 0.01 percent, but below 0.08 percent shall forfeit his right to operate a motor vehicle in New Jersey. This also applies to individuals who have not yet attained their operator’s license, since the statute specifically states that someone found to have an illegal amount of alcohol in his or her bloodstream shall be prohibited from obtaining a driver’s license for between 30 days to three months.

Additionally, persons convicted of underage DWI are subject to a period of community service of between 15 and 30 days. Not only this, but also an underage driver who is found guilty of drunken driving will be required to enroll in a program sponsored by the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (also known as the IDRC), or to participate in an alcohol education and highway safety program.

Of course, there are a number of steps to get through before a younger driver finds himself on a license suspension and spending time at the IDRC. In order for a conviction, the prosecuting attorney must prove three separate things when pursuing an underage DWI charge against an individual.

First, just as with any DWI case, the state must prove that the vehicle was, in fact, being “operated.” This can be confusing to many laypeople, since the law’s definition of “operation” may differ somewhat from the general public’s understanding of what vehicle operation should mean. According to New Jersey drunken driving laws, vehicle operation can take place anywhere. In fact, individuals have been known to be arrested for drunk driving while sitting in a parked car. Never assume that the state cannot convict you if you were merely on the roadside.

Second, the prosecutor must show without any question that the defendant named in the DWI summons was under New Jersey’s legal drinking age at the time of the operation. Proof for this second point typically comes from the defendant’s own driver’s license information. Third, the prosecuting attorney must be able to show the court that the defendant had a BAC of at least 0.01 percent, but less than 0.08 percent at the time of alleged operation. Most prosecutors get this evidence from a breathalyzer test or a blood sample obtained from the defendant at the time of the alleged drunken driving incident.

For those who may have been charged with underage drunk driving should remember that the sanctions imposed for underage DWI (as provided for in N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.14) must, by law, be imposed in addition to ANY OTHER penalties that may arise from other possible offenses at the time of the incident. In other words, those who are convicted of underage DWI will still be subject to those fines and penalties regardless of whether there are other penalties associated another (possibly greater) offense.

It goes without saying that underage drivers who have been accused of DWI should serious consider speaking with a qualified DWI-DUI attorney who has experience in defending motorists from such charges. My colleagues and I believe that our qualifications are unmatched in the state of New Jersey. If you or someone you know has been accused by the police of DWI or a drug DUI offense.