Driving while intoxicated (DWI) – sometimes referred to as driving under the influence (DUI) in other states – is often met with harsh consequences that tend to follow you for a long time after your conviction. Many young people who are not legally permitted to drink may be legally permitted to drive. This creates a large group of underage drivers who may face unique DWI penalties due to their age.
In New Jersey, a person may be charged with a DWI or a DUI if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at least .08%. However, underage drivers are legally forbidden from consuming any alcohol whatsoever. If an underage driver is stopped for suspicion of a DWI, they may be charged even if their BAC does not meet the legal limit. They may also lose their license until they reach the age of majority in addition to fines and possible community service requirements.
If your child was charged with a DWI, our Atlantic City DWI lawyers can help. Our team will fight the charges and work so your child may keep their driver’s license. Schedule a free, confidential legal consultation with our staff at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by calling (609) 616-4956.
NJ Underage Drinking and Driving
New Jersey’s DWI charges under N.J.S.A. § 39:4-50 make it illegal to drive a vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs such as narcotics or hallucinogenics. The law also sets a legal BAC of .08% for DWIs. A driver who meets or exceeds this limit may be charged.
Most people focus on the “legal limit” of .08%. This number is a measurement of your BAC and is the literal percentage of your blood that is pure alcohol.
Driving with alcohol in your system is always dangerous, but it can affect people differently. The law puts the .08% limit as a firm line that no one can legally cross. The punishments also increase if your BAC is .10% or higher. However, you can still technically be charged with DWI if you cannot drive safely because of alcohol, even with a BAC under .08%. Driving under the effects of a drug is also illegal, with the same punishments as the higher tier of alcohol DWI.
If you are under the age of 21, you cannot legally drink, so the drunk driver laws are stricter. N.J.S.A. § 39:4-50.14 moves the “legal limit” for drivers under 21 years old down to .01%. Very low BAC thresholds like this are sometimes called “zero-tolerance” policies. A .01% BAC is very low and could result from less than one alcoholic drink. A hangover or recent mouthwash use could even yield a .01% BAC.
If your teen was charged with an underage DWI, they may be facing harsh legal consequences that could hinder their future opportunities. Call our Atlantic County DWI lawyers for help fighting the charges and clearing your child’s name.
Teen DWI Penalties in Atlantic City
Teenagers and other drivers younger than the legal drinking of 21 may be subject to different DWI penalties. While it is illegal for all drivers to operate a vehicle with a BAC of at least .08%, it is illegal for underage drivers to get behind the wheel with any alcohol in their system at all.
The specific penalties under N.J.S.A. § 39:4-50.14 only apply for BAC between .01% and .08%. First, you automatically lose your license for between 30 and 90 days. If you were driving without a license or are too young to have a license, that suspension pushes back the date you become eligible for a license. You must also:
- Perform between 15 and 30 days of community service,
- Satisfy the requirements of the “Intoxicated Driver Resource Center” (IDRC) courses, and
- Pay any required fees.
Your teenager may have been charged with a DWI despite having only had one drink and a BAC of less than .08%. Zero tolerance policies pertaining to underage drivers are very strict and may be difficult to challenge. Our Atlantic City underage DWI lawyers have the skills and experience to craft the best defense possible for your case.
Standard Drinking and Driving Penalties in New Jersey
The standard penalties for an adult DWI under § 39:4-50 apply if your BAC was .08% or higher, or you were under the influence of drugs. These punishments are harsher than the 30-90 day license suspension and 15-30 days of community service. If a teen driver has a BAC of at least .08%, they may be subject to the below penalties just like any other adult driver.
First, if your BAC is between .08% and .10%, the punishment includes:
- A $250-$400 fine,
- 12-48 hours of IDRC education,
- Possible imprisonment of up to 30 days,
- A three-month license suspension, and
- Approximately $325 in surcharges.
If your BAC is over .10% (or you were under the effect of drugs), the punishments are:
- A $300-$500 fine
- 12-48 hours IDRC education,
- Up to 30 days in jail,
- A license suspension between seven months and one year, and
- About $325 in surcharges.
Either BAC can also lead to punishments including supervision, community service, or the installation of an ignition interlock. This supervision is like probation, including check-ins with a probation officer. An ignition interlock is a device that prevents you from starting your car until it receives a clean breath sample. Penalties also increase for subsequent offenses.
What is the Punishment for Underage DUI or DWI in Atlantic City?
If you are under 21, you may be eligible for preferential acceptance into a “supervised visitation program.” If your DWI is the result of physical, mental, or emotional issues, this program can help. Counseling sessions at the Intoxicated Driving Program Unit can get you the help you need to prevent further offenses. These are ordered as part of the terms of your supervision or as part of community service penalties.
Alternatively, there may be other programs available for first time DWI offenders. These programs help avoid some of the more serious penalties in exchange for guilty pleas and compliance with terms set by the judge. Talk to an Atlantic City criminal defense attorney about these opportunities.
Defenses for Teens Charged with DWIs in Atlantic City
If you are an underage driver charged with a DWI, there may be a number of defenses to your charges. Drunk drivers are often stopped by the police because of their erratic, dangerous driving. For example, intoxicated drivers have been known to weave in and out of lanes, drive the wrong way down highways, excessively speed, and otherwise drive very recklessly. These drivers’ inability to drive is due to their high BAC’s.
Teen drivers who have alcohol in their system can be harder to identify. With a BAC as low as .01%, your teen could be guilty of a DUI even though their ability to drive is still largely intact. This means a teen or underage driver who is legally intoxicated might not be driving erratically at all. Instead, the police may suspect an underage driver of having alcohol in their system after stopping them for another reason, such as running a red light or having a broken taillight.
We may be able to build a defense based on how the police discovered you were intoxicated and whether or not their methods were lawful. For example, the police may have searched your vehicle and found an open container of alcohol. Minors may not consent to any search due to their age. Law enforcement is not even allowed to ask a minor to consent to a search. If your teen was younger than 18 and consented to a search that led to alcohol, we may have a defense to the subsequent DWI charges.
There may be any number of possible defenses based on your circumstances. Call our Atlantic City underage DWI lawyers to figure out what defense will work best for your case.
Additional Penalties for Teens Charged with Underage DWIs in Atlantic City
It is illegal for underage individuals to buy or consume alcohol, period. Whether or not they were behind the wheel of a car, your teen may face legal penalties related to alcohol consumption. A person charged with an underage DWI is likely to be charged with other criminal offenses pertaining to the illegal purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol.
First, it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to possess or consume alcohol. However, under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15, this offense is not criminally charged nor penalized like other offenses would be. Instead, a teen found to be in possession of alcohol or intoxicated will receive a written warning from the authorities. If they were younger than 18, a copy of the warning will be sent to the teen’s parents. Records are kept regarding these warnings to keep track of repeat offenders.
However, the illegal purchase of alcohol may be criminally charged and punished. Under N.J.S.A. § 33:1-81, an underage person who uses a fake I.D. to buy alcohol may be charged with a disorderly persons offense and fined no less than $500. If during your teen’s traffic stop, the police officer spots an open container of alcohol, they may request to see identification from the driver. If your teen presents them with a fake I.D., the police may reasonably suspect that your teen used the fake I.D. to illegally purchase the alcohol.
Your teen may be similarly charged if they were intoxicated because they were drinking at a place designated for the retail sale of alcohol, such as a bar. Being intoxicated in public is not necessarily criminally charged, but drinking in a place like a bar or restaurant is punishable by law. Speak to our Atlantic City underage DWI lawyers for more information.
New Jersey Teen DWI Attorneys
The Atlantic City drunk driving attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych may be able to take your case. Having a defense attorney in your corner can help you challenge the charges, beat evidence, get charges dropped or reduced, or beat the case at trial. For a free consultation with our attorneys on your DWI case, call (609) 445-3759 today.