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What are the Penalties for Underage DUI in New Jersey?

Posted on: August 9, 2021

Being criminally charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in New Jersey can be pretty serious no matter what age of the person. But being criminally charged with underage DUI can turn a minor’s life upside down and get them started off on the wrong foot. Not only is driving while drunk or on drugs extremely dangerous for the individual; also it is extremely dangerous for everyone else on the roads and highways of New Jersey. This is why the state of New Jersey does not take underage drinking and driving lightly and minors face serious criminal charges and consequences for their actions. A DUI charge can haunt a minor individual long into their adult lives with unforeseen consequences on things such as employment, schooling, and certain licenses. This is why it is so important to have a knowledgeable and skilled lawyer with experience in DUI criminal defense to get the best outcome from the criminal charges.

What Qualifies as Underage DUI?

The legal drinking age in New Jersey is 21 years old. If an underage individual is driving after drinking alcohol, they will have double the trouble. Not only have they been drinking illegally, but also they are DUI. It is possible that they will be charged with both crimes. New Jersey law enforcement can charge an individual for underage DUI if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .01 percent or higher. Given this low-level BAC requirement, it does not take much alcohol to reach .01 percent alcohol concentration in the blood. Toxicology experts indicate that a 150-pound individual who has a standard alcoholic drink could have a BAC of .025 percent. A standard alcoholic drink would consist of a 12-ounce beer, 4-ounce glass of wine, or one shot of 80 proof alcohol such as whiskey or vodka. Body size and lean muscle mass play a role in this calculation as well. A 200-pound man who had a shot of whiskey could have a .02 BAC. But a 120-pound woman who has the same drink could have a .03 BAC. Time is also a factor in calculating BAC, given how long someone takes to drink a standard alcoholic drink. A person’s BAC will be different if they quickly drink a shot, for example, versus taking an hour to drink a glass of wine. Also, a person with the right body type could even wake up with a .01 percent BAC from a night of heavy drinking.

For individuals under 21 years of age, it only takes a very little amount of alcohol to reach and go beyond the .01 percent BAC and necessitate a charge of underage DUI. Drivers under 21 years of age have to be extremely careful and diligent when drinking alcohol and then thinking about driving.

What are the Penalties for Underage DUI in New Jersey?

The penalties for underage DUI in New Jersey can be significant. First, there is a zero-tolerance policy for underage DUI in the state. The penalties that an underage DUI driver will face will depend on the person’s BAC level and whether there were prior arrests and convictions for DUI. But with a first-offense underage DUI charge, the individual could face the following charges:

  • 15 to 30 days of community service
  • Driver’s license suspension of between 30 and 90 days
  • Completion of alcohol education programs at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center
  • Payment of fines, court costs, and fees

Additional DUIs after the first charge will result in increased penalties and fines. If the individual has a BAC in the .08 to .09 range, then the penalties will increase significantly:

  • $1,000 yearly surcharge for three consecutive years
  • $100 drunk driving fund fee
  • $75 Neighborhood Services Fund fee
  • At least a three-month suspension of driving privileges
  • Completion of alcohol education programs at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center as well as cost of program
  • $250 and $400 fines
  • $100 for the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund

What Drivers Should Do When Pulled Over as an Underage Drinker

Being pulled over for underage drinking can be a very scary situation. Most young people do not know what to do or what to say. More importantly, a young person might not know when to keep their mouth shut around police officers. No matter what the officers say, they are not a driver’s friend. They are there to gather information in order to convict someone of a crime. When speaking with the police officers, it is important to be careful what is said. In almost every scenario, the officer is filming everything that is happening and is said during the traffic stop. The first thing a driver should do is be polite and comply with the officer. It is acceptable for drivers to give the officer their name and address information. Most likely, the officer can obtain that information from the vehicle anyway. But it is important to be compliant and do not do anything that would warrant additional charges such as resisting arrest, for example.

If the police officer requests a field sobriety test, the driver should do so as best as possible. If the police officer requests a breathalyzer, a motorist should do that as well. If a breathalyzer is refused, then this could increase the penalties that the person faces. If the driver being pulled over is under the age of 18, they should ask to be able to speak to a parent and request that their parent or parents be present, if possible. No matter how old the person is, they should also always ask to speak to a lawyer. Obviously, a lawyer will not be able to come to the side of the road, but at the very least the driver is on record as asking for a lawyer to be present at the police station, if possible.

Defenses to DUI Charges

There are some defenses to New Jersey DUI charges that an experienced DUI criminal lawyer will be able to use. At each stage of the entire process, from the initial stop, the field sobriety tests, arrest, and any laboratory testing, things can be challenged in court if the accused has a skilled criminal defense lawyer. Here are some standard defenses:

  • There is no reasonable cause or suspicion to pull the person over in the first place.
  • After the person is pulled over, there is no reasonable cause or suspicion to detain the driver.
  • No probable cause for an arrest.
  • No proof or lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual was driving the vehicle.
  • The breathalyzer (Alcotest) machine was not properly calibrated.
  • The breathalyzer machine was not properly used during the detention and arrest.
  • The police officer cannot demonstrate that he or she complied with the so-called 20-minute rule. The 20-minute rule (N.J.S.A. 39:4–50 and 39:4-50(a)) provides that police must observe an individual uninterrupted for 20 minutes prior to the taking of an Alcotest. The purpose of the 20-minute rule prior to any testing is to make sure the DUI suspect did not ingest anything that might affect the outcome of the test. If the police cannot demonstrate proof that the 20-minute rule was followed, the case could be dismissed.
  • Lack of warrant for the collection of blood samples.

Monmouth County Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Help People Arrested for Underage DUI Charges

If you or a family member has been arrested and charged with underage DUI, the best course of action is to hire an experienced criminal defense law firm that focuses their practice on representing people charged with DUI. The Monmouth County criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law have the knowledge, skills, and resources to win the best outcome for you in your DUI case. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients in Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, Monmouth County, Marlboro, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York City.