Lawmakers, police and prosecutors take impaired driving extremely seriously in North Carolina and offenders, no matter their age, routinely face severe punishments, including fines, jail time, and license suspensions. When it comes to underage drinking, however, the potential consequences are even more serious. North Carolina’s Zero Tolerance Law means that anybody under 21 years of age faces severe penalties if they are convicted of consuming any amount of alcohol. For those who have been charged with an offense related to underage drinking, it is vital to understand what the penalties could be and to seek help from an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
The law pertaining to drinking and driving is much stricter for underage offenders than it is for those who are 21 years of age or older. The North Carolina Department of Transportation notes, for example, that while the blood-alcohol content (BAC) level for which people 21 and over may be convicted of DWI is 0.08, for those under 21 it is 0.00. Essentially, this Zero Tolerance policy means that drivers under 21 who have consumed any alcohol, no matter how small the amount, can be convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI).
The most immediate consequence of underage DWI is an on-the-spot 30-day license suspension along with a $100 fees. These initial consequences are incurred before the offender’s trial even begins and regardless of any conviction. If convicted, offenders face even more serious penalties, including a one-year license suspension, fines and court costs potentially exceeding $1,000, and conviction of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Drivers who are 18 or over and who have no prior convictions may be able to retain limited driving privileges. Furthermore, as the North Carolina Department of Public Safety notes, if an underage driver refuses an alcohol screening test, then just the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath can be sufficient for a conviction.
North Carolina’s Zero Tolerance policy does not only apply to drinking and driving. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited for anybody in the state who is under the age of 21, regardless of whether or not they were operating a vehicle while or after consuming alcohol.
For defendants who are under the age of 19, the punishment for underage drinking is conviction of a Class 1 misdemeanor, along with possible community service, jail time, and/or fees and court costs. Offenders aged 19 or 20, on the other hand, face the possibility of a Class 3 misdemeanor, as well as jail, community service, and/or hundreds of dollars in fines and court costs.
Young people sometimes make mistakes. While it is important to learn from those mistakes, it is also important to try to prevent those same mistakes from potentially sabotaging one’s future. A criminal record is the last thing one needs at a young age, especially since such a record can lead to diminished career, educational, and other opportunities well into the future. Anybody facing a charge of underage drinking should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately who can help defendants fight against these very serious charges.