After the pandemic shut down last year’s fun, the excitement around prom 2021 is palpable. Older teens are thinking about dresses, limos, dates, and dancing.
Amanda Webb - DWI Lawyer would like to add safety to that list of considerations.
Prom is a notoriously dangerous time for underage drunk driving. In one year, more than one-third of youth under the age of 21 killed in alcohol-related fatalities died during prom season, the months of April, May, and June, according to AAA.
Texas has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to people under age 21 drinking or possessing alcohol. The punishments for breaking these rules can be severe. Texas has no problem trying minors as adults in drunk driving situations.
Penalties for driving impaired, drinking, or possession of alcohol as a minor can include fines, jail time, loss of driving privileges, community service, and mandatory education.
A driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence of alcohol (DUIA) conviction can ruin a person’s life before they even reach adulthood.
If you are a minor who was arrested or otherwise has been charged with drunk driving or related charges, you have rights. One of the best ways to protect your rights when you're facing DWI charges is to contact an experienced attorney who can help you understand your case and weigh your legal options.
Texas underage DWI, alcohol laws
Texas has separate alcohol statutes for people under age 17, people ages 17-21, and those 21 and older.
If you are under age 21 and are stopped by a police officer on prom night, or any other time, for suspicion of driving with alcohol in your system, here is what you should know:
- A police officer must first have a reasonable suspicion that a suspect is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol before initiating a traffic stop.
- The officer will stop the vehicle and ask the driver to perform a sobriety test.
- If an officer suspects any detectable alcohol is in a minor driver’s system - even at levels below the 0.08% BAC standard - the officer can choose to handcuff and arrest the youth, have the car towed, and then bring the minor to a jail or police station for a breathalyzer test or a hospital/clinic for a blood alcohol test.
Implied consent of minors
Texas has implied consent laws for minors. That means that if a person under 21 is reasonably suspected of having any detectable alcohol in their system, they have automatically consented to a breathalyzer or blood test to determine the level of alcohol and/or drugs in their system.
If a minor refuses to take a breathalyzer, blood, or another similar test, the minor can be placed in jail until they are bonded out or make an appearance before a magistrate or juvenile court judge. The minor's driver's license will be suspended for 180 days the first time and 2 years for second or subsequent refusals.
Minors and alcohol penalties
Texas has alcohol-related penalties regarding minors providing, buying, drinking, and driving with booze in their systems. In serious cases, a minor can be charged as an adult for alcohol-related offenses.
The following are some of the charges and penalties a person may face:
Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUIA) by a minor (people under 17 years of age)
A fine of no more than $500 can be assessed for each offense:
- First offense: 20-40 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 60-180 days, mandatory attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
- Second offense: 40-60 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 120 days to 2 years, attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
- Third offense: 40-60 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.
Non-driving alcohol-related offenses by a minor
Trying to buy alcohol if you’re underage, falsely identifying as 21 years old to fool someone into selling you alcohol, and consuming or possessing an alcoholic beverage are all considered non-driving alcohol-related offenses. The penalties for such offenses, as well as public intoxication, are:
- First offense: A fine of no more than $500, 8-12 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 30 days, attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
- Second offense: A fine of no more than $500, 20-40 hours of community service, suspension of driver’s license for 60 days, attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
- Third offense (for people 17 years of age or older, but under 21): A fine of $250-$2,000, 40-60 hours of community service, up to 180 days in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days.
Driving while intoxicated by a minor (17-21 years of age)
- First offense: A fine of no more than $2,000, 72 hours to 180 days in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 1 year. The length of suspension can be reduced to 90 days if the court orders community supervision and requires the use of an ignition interlock device.
- Second offense: A fine of no more than $4,000, 30 days to 1 year in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 18 months.
- Third and subsequent offenses: A fine of no more than $10,000, 2-10 years in prison, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.
Minors charged as adults
In extreme cases, Texas courts will try minors as adults in drug and alcohol-related offenses. If convicted, the minor would receive the same penalties as an adult, which are:
- First offense: A fine of no more than $2,000, 72 hours to 180 days in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 90-365 days. If there was an open container of alcohol in the vehicle at the time, the minimum stay in jail is increased to 6 days. A judge can show leniency and waive the jail time and license suspension, but only for a first offense.
- Second offense: A fine of no more than $4,000, 30-365 days in jail, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.
- Third and subsequent offenses: A fine of no more than $10,000, 2-10 years in a penitentiary, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.
Other felony adult DWI charges could be tacked on:
- Intoxication assault: A fine of no more than $10,000, 2-10 years in prison, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.
- Intoxication manslaughter: A fine of no more than $10,000, 2-20 years in prison, suspension of driver’s license for 180 days to 2 years.
What adults need to know
Purchasing or otherwise providing a minor with an alcoholic beverage in Texas is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or 80 days in jail. Selling an alcoholic beverage to a minor can result in a fine of up to $4,000 and/or up to 1 year in jail.
Protect your rights and learn your options
The state of Texas likes to make it seem like DWI and DUIA charges can't be disputed, but an experienced DWI lawyer knows what to look for to poke holes in a case. For instance, a failed breathalyzer test does not mean you are automatically guilty. In fact, many courts are starting to reject preliminary or portable breath test evidence because the results are unreliable.
A good opportunity to push back against a drunk driving charge is to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge to argue that the officer did not have probable cause to stop and arrest you for the presence of detectable drugs or alcohol.
Amanda Webb is a former assistant district attorney who has been defending clients in Sugar Land, the Woodlands, Houston, Conroe, Montgomery and Waller counties for more than a decade. Attorney Webb is well-versed in prosecution strategy and knows what it takes to get charges reduced or dropped.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for a Texas alcohol offense, contact us today for a free case consultation.