Underage DUI Charges and Consequences in the State of Florida
The state of Florida takes a hardline on people under the age of 21 who drink, take drugs, or both, and then drive. The state has no tolerance for drugged driving – period - and no tolerance for underage driving under the influence (DUI). An experienced DUI attorney from Musca Law could help you avoid the harsh consequences of a DUI conviction while underage via plea bargain with the state’s attorney or win a dismissal of the case.
Florida’s underage DUI law may be found at Florida Statutes Section 316.193. The definition of an underage intoxicated driver is different for someone under 21-years-of-age than someone old enough to drink lawfully. The state law dictates that a person under the age of 21 is presumptively drunk, and therefore, in violation of the DUI statute, if driving while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02% or above. Thus, the legal limit for motorists under 21 is 0.02% BAC. Conversely, the legal limit for drivers 21 years or older is 0.08% BAC.
The legal BAC limit, whether tested by blood or breath test, creates a presumption of intoxication. However, law enforcement officers in Florida are not restricted to blood or alcohol test results to charge anyone with DUI, including someone driving after taking alcohol while underage.
A law enforcement officer may charge a driver with DUI based on the officer’s observations and witness statements. For instance, the officer can stop an underage driver upon suspicion for DUI while under 21 if the motorist is weaving, caused an accident, intermittently braking, or changing speeds erratically.
After encountering the driver, the law enforcement officer could ask the driver to take a field sobriety test. The officer will be watchful for signs of intoxication, such as stumbling, slurred speech, confusion, and the smell of alcohol emitting from the driver’s compartment, along with bloodshot and watery eyes. The combination of these observations could lead the officer to believe that the driver is under the influence because his or her faculties are impaired.
Underage DUI Penalties and Collateral Consequences
Florida’s DUI law imposes criminal and administrative sanctions upon a person convicted of DUI. The criminal penalties listed under Florida Statutes Section 316.193 apply to both drivers under the legal age and as well as those who are 21 or older. Under Florida Statutes Section 316.193, a person who is impaired by alcohol or has a 0.08% BAC or higher is guilty of DUI. Florida law establishes the criminal penalty for a first offense DUI is a fine between $500.00 and $1,000.00, suspension of driver’s license for as long as one year, a potential six-month jail sentence, probation, 50 community service hours, and the possibility of the judge issuing an order impounding your vehicle.
A conviction under this law remains on one’s criminal history permanently. Although a first offense DUI conviction in Florida is a misdemeanor, you could have difficulty finding employment or pursuing educational opportunities.
The police will not charge underage drivers who have a 0.02% BAC, but less than 0.05% BAC with an additional crime. The police will remove the underage driver from the road as a precautionary measure. Although the police physically detain the underage motorist, Florida law dictates explicitly that the procedure is not an arrest. The detention could escalate into and become an arrest if the law enforcement officer possesses probable cause to believe that the underage driver was impaired or the BAC results are 0.08% or higher. If the BAC falls between 0.02% and 0.05%, then the police have not placed you under arrest and cannot issue a citation. There is no permanent criminal record generated by this procedure, but the event will appear on the operator’s driving history.
A minimum of 0.02% triggers specific administrative penalties under Florida Statutes Section 322.2616. By command of this section, the investigating officer can send the breathalyzer results to the Florida Department of Highway Safety. The Department of Highway Safety will suspend the underage driver’s license for a minimum of six months. However, refusing a roadside breath test will result in an automatic suspension of the driver’s license for eighteen months.
If the underage driver’s BAC fell between 0.05% and 0.079%, then the Department of Highway Safety will not reinstate the driver’s license unless the underage motorist passes an educational course concerning substance abuse and passes a substance abuse evaluation.
Additional Penalties for Underage DUI
Florida’s DUI statute criminalizes driving with a 0.15% BAC or higher and is sometimes known as aggravated DUI. A 0.15% BAC is nearly twice the legal limit. Consequently, the penalties for aggravated DUI in Florida increase accordingly. The person, irrespective of whether adult or person under 21, convicted of aggravated DUI in Florida, faces a nine-month jail sentence for a first offense and a fine between $1,000.00 and $2,000.00. The penalties increase for subsequent offenses.
Florida’s DUI statute also includes enhanced penalties when motor vehicle crashes occur while DUI. A person who causes an accident while DUI that results in property damage or personal injury will face a first-degree misdemeanor charge. Upon conviction for a first-degree misdemeanor charge in Florida, the person faces up to one-year incarceration in the county jail. A motor vehicle crash caused by a person who is DUI that results in substantial injury to the victim could give rise to a third-degree felony. Third-degree felonies are punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years in the state’s prison.
DUI manslaughter carries more significant consequences. Florida’s DUI law considers DUI Manslaughter to be a second-degree felony. The maximum sentence for a second-degree felony in Florida is fifteen years. However, Florida’s DUI statute mandates the offender serve a minimum of four years of that sentence.
Underage DUI Defenses
As with every criminal case, the person charged with DUI, no matter what age, has numerous defenses at his or her disposal. A highly skilled and seasoned underage DUI defense lawyer in Florida will analyze the factual scenario giving rise to the charges and plot the debts defenses available under the circumstances. Some arguments include contesting the validity of the breathalyzer results, contesting the performance of the driver on field sobriety tests, and arguing that the police violated the driver’s rights so that the case should be dismissed.