Drinking and driving is a serious offense no matter what your age, but it is especially serious if you are under the age of 21 and therefore cannot legally drink. While drivers who are over the age of 21 will be charged with a DUI if their blood-alcohol content is .08% or higher, younger drivers can be charged with an Underage Drinking and Driving Offense (UDD) or DUI even if their BAC is below this threshold. Read on to learn what you need to know if you or your loved one is under the age of 21 and has been charged with drunk driving.
Zero Tolerance Policies for Drivers Under 21
Colorado has what is called a Zero Tolerance policy when it comes to underage drunk driving, which means that underage drivers can be charged with a crime even if their measured BAC is as low as .02%. Underage drivers who have a BAC between .02-.05 will be charged with a UDD, and their penalties will be determined by the court. If you are convicted of a UDD and it is your first offense, it will be considered a Class A traffic violation, which is typically punishable by a fine ranging from $15-$100 and up to 24 hours of mandatory community service but no jail time.
If you have one or more prior UDDs on your record, the charge is upgraded to a Class 2 Traffic Misdemeanor, which may result in a much harsher punishment if you’re convicted. The penalties for a Class 2 Traffic Misdemeanor may include $150-300 in fines, up to 24 hours of mandatory community service, and 10-90 days in jail.
Penalties for Underage Drivers with BAC of .05 or Higher
If you are under 21 and a chemical test shows that your BAC is .05 or higher, you will face the same potential consequences as someone over the age of 21 whose chemical test shows a BAC of .08 or higher. A conviction for a first offense DUI will result in a mandatory minimum of 5 days in jail and up to 1 year of incarceration (although it may be possible to suspend the jail sentence if you agree to attend a treatment program). Fines can range from $600 to $1,000, and mandatory community service is also likely to be part of the sentence.
If this is a second DUI, there is a minimum mandatory incarceration period of 10 days, a fine that is at least $1000 but no more than $5000, and potentially a license suspension of at least a year. Regardless of whether your DUI is a first or second offense, a conviction will result in you having a DUI on your criminal record, which may affect your ability to continue your education (if you are planning to apply to college) or to secure certain jobs.
Other Penalties an Underage Driver May Face
As someone under the age of 21, there are a number of other alcohol-related penalties you may face if a police officer determines that you were driving while intoxicated. Additional charges you may face include:
- Minor in possession (MIP)
- Distributing alcohol to minors (if there are passengers under the age of 21 who have also been drinking)
- Possession of false identification (if a police officer determines that you used a fake ID to purchase alcohol)
- Moving violations (if you committed another infraction, such as speeding or failing to stop at a stop sign, that caused the police officer to pull you over)
All these additional charges can contribute to the fines and penalties you will face if convicted, so it is in your best interest to contact a DUI attorney as soon as possible after you are charged.
If Charged with a UDD or DUI, Talk to a Colorado Defense Attorney
Many Coloradans who are charged with a DUI or UDD when under the age of 21 worry that there is nothing they can do to defend themselves because of Colorado’s Zero Tolerance policy. However, if you work with a skilled defense attorney, you may be able to have your charges reduced or dropped altogether, depending on the circumstances of your case.
The breath tests that police officers frequently use to measure blood-alcohol content are not always accurate and can be influenced by factors other than the actual level of alcohol in your bloodstream, so your attorney may be able to argue that there is not substantial evidence that you were intoxicated, especially if your BAC was barely over .02. If this UDD or DUI is your first offense, your attorney may also be able to argue for a deferred judgment, which would keep you from ending up with a conviction on your criminal record.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.