Driving while intoxicated, or DWI is itself a serious criminal offense in North Carolina. But if you’re a driver under the age of 21 and are caught with any alcohol or controlled substance in your system, the penalties can be much more severe. And the repercussions for an underage DWI don’t end with the legal system. North Carolina takes DWI seriously, and if you’re a defendant charged with this or any related offense, you owe it to yourself to retain aggressive criminal defense.
The Hancock Law Firm understands the potential implications of an underage DWI conviction. We also know how to respond to the prosecution’s case and defend your legal rights in court. Give us a call to discuss your case and schedule a consultation.
Underage DWI: How You May Be Charged
If you are caught driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, you can be charged with a DWI. However, North Carolina has a zero-tolerance law when it comes to alcohol consumption by drivers under the age of 21. Under North Carolina General Statutes § 20-138.3:
“It is unlawful for a person less than 21 years old to drive a motor vehicle on a highway or public vehicular area while consuming alcohol or at any time while he has remaining in his body any alcohol or controlled substance previously consumed…”
The legal limit for alcohol for these drivers is therefore 0.00, not 0.08. That means if you are under age 21, and are found with any alcohol in your system, you can be charged with an underage DWI which is formerly known as Driving After Consuming. Also, note that the statute covers controlled substances as well.
Driving After Consuming only applies to drivers under the age of 21. As a zero-tolerance law, this does not require that the driver be impaired in order to be convicted.
How Is Driving After Consuming Charged In North Carolina?
Driving After Consuming is charged as a class 2 misdemeanor. It is not a lesser included offense of DWI. This means that a driver under age 21 who blows a 0.08 or higher can be charged with both DWI and Driving After Consuming. These are similar though separate criminal charges.
If you are convicted of Driving After Consuming, you face multiple potential criminal penalties, including the following:
- Loss of your driver’s license
- Possible jail time, often depending on your criminal record
- Fines and court costs
- Mandatory community service
- Substance abuse counseling
And these are just potential criminal penalties. If you have a job and lose your license, you could lose your job and livelihood. Your car insurance premiums will increase substantially and remain high for a considerable amount of time. Also, you will likely have to disclose any convictions on future job applications and could face separate punishment from a college or university you are currently attending.
Possible Defenses To Driving After Consuming or Underage DWI
Depending on the facts in your case, your attorney may be able to successfully argue one or more defenses. You may be able to challenge the circumstances under which you were pulled over and arrested (for example, the lack of reasonable suspicion).
The statute also applies where a driver has a controlled substance in his or her body. But it makes clear that “a person less than 21 years old does not violate this section if he drives with a controlled substance in his body which was lawfully obtained and taken in therapeutically appropriate amounts.” In other words, if you have a prescription for a controlled substance that otherwise would make you in violation of the law, you could be cleared.
As with all criminal defenses, your best bet is to be upfront with your attorney about all relevant facts.
Possible Sentencing Alternatives For A Driving After Consuming Charge
You may or may not have a valid defense to a Driving After Consuming charge. If not, you and your attorney can explore several legal options, such as:
- Deferred prosecution
- Dismissal based on community service or completion of substance abuse class
- Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC)
There may be other options but bear in mind that each one has its own requirements. For example, a PJC only applies to Driving After Consuming (not DWI) and can only be granted by a judge (not the District Attorney). There are pros and cons to the PJC, and it may not be the best option in your case. Discuss this and other alternatives with your attorney.
What To Do After A Conviction
If you are convicted of Driving After Consuming, and you lose your license based solely on that conviction, you may be able to obtain a limited driving privilege. To be eligible, you must be between the ages of 18 and 20, and must not have any prior similar convictions. There are other eligibility requirements that may apply in your case, so talk with your lawyer about how to obtain one of these privileges.
You also may be eligible for expungement of the Driving After Consuming conviction. Generally, you have to wait at least five years if the conviction happened after age 18 (or two years if under age 18). Ask your attorney about your eligibility to have this misdemeanor expunged from your record.
Contact Our Carteret County Underage DWI Attorney
Your best course of action is to not consume any alcohol if you are under the age of 21, and certainly do not get behind the wheel – even after just one drink. A conviction can mean a criminal record, significant fines, and other consequences that turn “just one drink” into so much more. But an arrest does not mean you will be convicted, and you may have options.
Let Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, go to work for you and fight for the best outcome possible. Contact us today to discuss your case.