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Understanding Alcohol-Related Criminal Charges for Minors

In Texas, as in other U.S. states, the legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 years. Individuals under age 21 who are suspected of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or of other alcohol-related offenses may face different charges and penalties than those who are 21 or older. Regardless of age, however, anyone who is charged with DWI in Austin should seek the help of an experienced Austin, Texas criminal defense attorney.

A “minor,” or person under 21, who is charged with DWI may face penalties even before the case is resolved in court. For instance, the Department of Motor Vehicles may take steps that include:

  • Suspending the minor’s driver’s license for one year;
  • Requiring the minor to complete an Alcohol Education Program; and/or
  • Requiring that an ignition interlock device be placed on the minor’s vehicle.

Like other drivers, minors may request a hearing to challenge the suspension or revocation of their driver’s license. They may also choose an attorney to represent their interests at this hearing.

Other alcohol-related convictions that may affect a minor’s driving privileges include:

  • Purchasing or attempting to purchase alcohol;
  • Possessing or consuming alcohol;
  • Misrepresenting his or her age in order to obtain alcohol; and/or
  • Public intoxication.

A minor’s driver’s license may also be suspended if he or she refuses to take a blood or breath test for alcohol when an officer requests that the driver do so.

To have a driver’s license reinstated after an alcohol-related suspension or revocation, drivers of any age must pay the reinstatement fee, obtain an SR-22 financial responsibility insurance certificate, and submit documentation that states that the driver has completed any required alcohol or drug education programs.

So What’s the Difference between DWI and DUI in Texas

DUI in Texas a very specific charge that refers to a minor (under 21) who has been found driving with some alcohol being present in his system, but not enough to be considered intoxicated (in the police officer’s discretion). This person is given a Class C ticket for DUI. They can be arrested too (arresting is under the officer discretion), but whether they are arrested or not, they will be issued just a Class C ticket. Reasons for arresting in a Class C DUI situation (as opposed to merely writing the driver a tickets) could be: To teach a young person a lesson about the dangers of alcohol; concern the driver may continue to drink and drive later that night; to verify the identity of the driver; to make sure the young driver’s parents are more likely discover the infraction).

Example of a DUI: A young person (under 21) goes to a party and has 2 beers. The young person weighs 180 pounds and doesn’t feel any major effects of the alcohol to the point of affecting his normal use of his mental and physical capabilities. He is pulled over by a police office shortly after finishing his 2nd beer and his breath still smells of alcohol and the officer smells it. The officer asks the young person if he has had anything to drink, and the young person admits to having had 2 drinks. After determining and deciding the young driver is not intoxicated (usually by doing Standard Field Sobriety Tests, also called S.F.T.s, and possibly a portable breath test) then the officer has the discretion to write a ticket to the young person for D.U.I. or arrest them for the D.U.I. Either way, it is a Class C ticket, punishable by fine only. The Driver’s License can also be suspended (but is not considered a part of the penal code punishment) for what DPS refers to as an alcohol contact.

If you are under 21 years old, you can receive a 30, 60, or 90-day license suspension for:

  • Buying or attempting to buy alcohol.
  • Possessing or consuming alcohol.
  • Public intoxication.

DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) is when the individual (whether 21 or younger) is considered to have sufficiently lost the normal use of their mental and/or physical faculties due to the introduction of alcohol or drugs. So if a 18 year is pulled over and very drunk/intoxicated, they will be interested and charged with a Class B D.W.I. (if it is their 1st offense, with the possibility of being a Class A if their blood alcohol limit is above a .15).

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