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Can a Minor Be Charged with a DUI?


You might assume that if you’re a minor, you cannot be charged with a DUI – but you’d be wrong. In fact, minors (anyone under the age of 21 years) with a BAC of 0.02 percent or more will be arrested and charged with a DUI.

Teen drinking is a serious concern for all parents and lawmakers alike. That is why the BAC limit is lowered for underage drinkers, and those who are minors can still be arrested and serve a sentence (whether in juvenile detention or a treatment center) for drinking and driving.

Teens Drink and Drive – Sometimes More Than Adults

New Mexico has the standard 0.08 percent BAC rule for adults. But if you are under the age of 21, you cannot drive with anything over 0.02 percent.

Drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 face first-time DUI charges, but it is different for those under the age of 18. Technically, if you are under the age of 18, you are legally a minor. Therefore, adult punishments do not always apply.

Jail time is not always required for those under 18, even if convicted of a DUI. However, if you are between the ages of 18 and 21, you can serve time in jail for your DUI conviction.

Teens are likely to drink and drive just because they exhibit less caution when it comes to obeying laws and rules. However, if you are under 18, even if you are not facing a prison sentence, you should know that you have long-term consequences for drinking while underage and driving – some of which can affect you even as an adult.

Zero Tolerance Policies for Underage DUIs

Most states, including New Mexico, have a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 18 that drink and drive. If you test positive for 0.02 percent or higher, you will be arrested, charged, and convicted of a DUI. However, if you are under 18, you will be tried as a juvenile unless special circumstances apply.

The court most likely will issue a diversion program. This means you can plead out to a charge that is not a DUI, or sometimes you can have the charges dismissed entirely if it is your first offense and no accidents or injuries occurred as a result of your DUI.

However, the judge may still issue time in a juvenile detention center, several hours of community service, and you may owe criminal penalties like fines.

A DUI Can Still Result in a Driver’s License Suspension

When you are underage and arrested for a DUI, you face the same risks as a person over 21 when it comes to their driver’s license. You most likely will encounter a driver’s license suspension, and even when you get your license back, the juvenile court judge may require that you install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in order to get your driver’s license back.

You Might Be Tried as an Adult

The court has also assigned adult penalties to juvenile offenders. While you assume that a DUI is nothing more than a misdemeanor (thus, nothing to worry about), the judge may feel you deserve to be tried as an adult. This is especially true if you are close to the age of 18 or other circumstances apply, such as:

  • Extensive Property Damage Occurred – If you drove recklessly and caused property damage to other vehicles, buildings, or even government property, you may be ordered to pay restitution to the party who lost those items. Likewise, the judge may charge you with adult criminal charges, such as reckless endangerment.
  • Injuries or Death Occurred  – If you were drinking and driving as a teen, but you also caused a catastrophic accident that led to serious injuries or a fatality, you could be charged with aggravated DUI and vehicular manslaughter. The court does not tolerate teens injuring or taking lives, and they may choose to try you as an adult to prove such.
  • Your BAC Was Incredibly High – You can be arrested with anything over 0.02 percent. But if your BAC is even higher, such as over 0.08 percent or at the aggravated DWI range of 0.16 percent, the court might decide that juvenile court punishments are not enough.

Rehabilitation Is Most Likely

Instead of jail time, you may serve a few days in a juvenile detention center. However, it is most likely that you will be assigned rehabilitation instead. If you have a history of drinking or drug abuse, the court might order rehabilitation in an inpatient or outpatient clinic to hopefully resolve your addictions so that you do not commit another DUI in your teens or adult years.

The Long-Term Consequences

As a teen, you may think there are no consequences, or you might assume that your juvenile criminal record is sealed anyway – so where is the risk? If the court chooses to try you as an adult, you could have a permanent criminal record follow you around before you even are a legal adult. Also, losing your driver’s license may affect your ability to participate in sports in school, get to and from any job you might have, and affect you from getting a job.

If you are planning to intern over the summer or you want to take on a summer job for extra money, having no driver’s license will make that difficult as well.

Hire an Attorney with Experience Handling Juvenile DUI Cases

If your juvenile has been arrested for a DUI, do not wait to contact an attorney. The faster you have legal representation, the better the outcome might be. An attorney can work for a solution with the prosecution that may eliminate detention time and possibly include a lower charge so that your child starts their adult life without a criminal record.

To get started, contact the defense team at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices for a free case evaluation. Schedule your appointment now by calling us or requesting more information online.