In recent years, law enforcement and the media have often focused on teens using drugs. This is for a good reason, with the risk of overdosing on hard drugs a significant concern among parents across Colorado and elsewhere. Somewhat forgotten in the discussion on at-risk behavior among young people is underage drinking, particularly regarding DUI.
In the past, we discussed the exceptions where underage drinking is allowed (including religious ceremonies, in the company of adults, etc.). Still, the laws regarding underage drinking have been in place nationally since the 1980s when the federal government withheld highway funding to states who did not change the minimum legal drinking age to 21.
The penalties are real
It is illegal for underage people to purchase, possess, transport, or consume alcohol. First-time offenders are usually charged with a misdemeanor. The penalties often involve:
- Attending alcohol counseling/classes
- Performing hours of community service
The charges likely will be more severe for repeat offenders
DUI rules are more severe
While the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit is .08% for of-age drivers, the guidelines are much more stringent. For example, the legal limit is .02% for drivers 20 or younger. Underage drivers with a BAC between .02% and .05% are charged with underage drinking and driving, a Class A traffic infraction for the first offense. The penalties include a three-month license suspension, four points on their license and 24 hours of community service. The second infraction for this is a Class 2 Traffic Misdemeanor with a doubling of the penalties and another four points on their driver’s license.
If the young driver exceeds the .05% threshold, they can be charged with a standard DUI. The first conviction can involve jail time, a nine-month license suspension, up to $1,000 in fines, 96 hours of public service, and 12 points on the defendant’s license. A second conviction is a 12-month suspension, a longer jail sentence, a larger fine, up to 120 hours of public service, and 12 points on their license.
It is best to fight the charges
The charges will reflect the circumstances of the arrest; however, an attorney can argue for lower penalties when warranted. Not only does this lessen the disruption to the defendant’s life and enable them to fulfill obligations like school and a job, but it can also help minimize the escalating penalties if the person under 21 is again changed.