Underage DWI

There are three distinct categories of drivers under 21 years of age, and each faces differing levels of sanctions if they are caught driving with alcohol in their system.

Juvenile Offenders

First, there are drivers under 16 years of age. Drinking drivers under the age of 16 are exceedingly rare, they are not licensed, and they are subject to prosecution in either criminal court or family court. If your child has been detained for driving while impaired or intoxicated and he or she is under 16 years old, please call us. We have successfully represented juvenile offenders in the past, and our integrated DWI and family law practice makes us uniquely qualified to assist you and your child through an extremely difficult time in family court. If the allegations are accurate, we can help get your child the treatment he or she needs. We can also aggressively defend your child from any criminal charge made against him or her.

Youthful Offenders

The second group of drivers under 21 years of age are “Youthful Offenders.” Youthful Offender (YO) is a legal term of art. A person is YO eligible if they are ages 16, 17, or 18 with no prior YO adjudications or felony convictions. (For a more specific definition, see NYS CPL Article 720.) Youthful Offenders are not “convicted” of crimes. Instead, they are “adjudicated” as a YO, and their record is sealed.

There is a punishment for the conduct of a Youthful Offender, but YO status can dramatically reduce the amount of time they might have to spend incarcerated. (See NYS PL 60.02.) It also means that they have no criminal record going forward. For misdemeanor DWI purposes, a YO sentence is capped at six months. YO felony adjudications are sentence-capped at the same sentence as a Class E Felony.

DWI sanctions, of course, include more than just jail time and fines. The normal license suspension or revocation for drivers under 21 applies to Youthful Offenders – there is no reduction. Because a YO’s record is sealed, the suspension or revocation will appear on their DMV abstract but the underlying conviction should not appear. The adjudicated youth will still have to pay the mandatory state surcharge, which can be pretty large – between $255 and $520.

Nevertheless, YO status still allows a young person to avoid the stigma of a criminal conviction on a misdemeanor or felony DWI, and it also spares them from having established a predicate conviction. A YO adjudication is not a conviction, so if the youth is charged with a DWI for a second time within 10 years of their YO adjudication, it will be charged as a misdemeanor – not as a felony. Similarly, a YO adjudication cannot be used as a predicate conviction for the purpose of a permanent license revocation.

Underage Drinking Drivers

The final group of underage drinking drivers are those aged 19 or 20. If a person under the age of 21 is found to have a BAC of .02% - .07%, they are subject to the Zero Tolerance laws. A BAC of .08% or higher will still subject a youth to a DWI charge with enhanced license revocation consequences. Zero tolerance laws are civil – not criminal. They are a substitute for the VTL 1192(1) DWAI statute, so a young person will either be charged with a Zero Tolerance violation or DWAI, but not both. That having been said, a person charged with violating VTL 1192(1) DWAI can be convicted of VTL 1192-a Zero Tolerance.

Zero Tolerance Penalties

A person under 21 who is convicted of DWAI would be subject to a one-year license revocation. If convicted of 1192-a, the same person is instead subject to a six-month suspension and a $125.00 fine. Under either scenario, a first-time offender is eligible for a conditional license. A big difference between persons under 21 and persons over 21 is that a person under 21 cannot get their full driving privileges back after completing the Drinking Driver Program (DDP). A person under 21 will have to drive under their conditional license restrictions for the full period of their suspension or revocation.

The Zero Tolerance laws for drivers under 21 are considerably more in-depth than what we can share with you here. If you are facing a DWI charge and you are under the age of 21, and if you have questions about chemical test refusals, parent notifications, or getting your license back, call the DWI attorneys at Jeannie D. Michalski today for a free DWI consultation at our offices in either Brighton or Avon. We have helped dozens of underage drivers, and we can help you as well.