We’ve all made bad decisions. For many, it’s simply a part of growing up.
However, for some Virginian teens, this means choosing to drive while intoxicated.
While there’s some wiggle room for underage drinking, an underage DUI charge is a serious matter that can result in large fines, loss of driving privileges, and, in some cases, even jail time.
In this article, we’ll go over the basics of underage DUI charges in Virginia, and provide practical tips to help you get your child’s life back on track.
However, please keep in mind that the only real advice for resolving this problem is to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
Underage Drinking and Driving Rules
The rules surrounding underage drinking and driving are spread out over several code sections. We’ll go over the most important below.
BAC Guidelines in Virginia
At their most basic level, the DUI rules in Virginia are rather simple.
If you’re 21 and over, your blood alcohol level must be less than .08 to drive. Otherwise, an officer may charge you with DUI.
However, this level is different for minors.
Virginia Code § 46.2-391.2 states that and officer can charge anyone under 21 who is driving with a BAC of .02 or more with a DUI.
Minors who blow higher than a .08 are charged under the same laws (and receive the same penalties) as adults.
Penalties for Underage Drinking
Underage drinking itself is a crime in Virginia that, if convicted, results in some pretty harsh penalties.
Even before your child gets behind the wheel, an underage drinking offense is a serious matter.
In Virginia this offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor. This means that the crime may show up on background checks and other similar searches.
If convicted, your child could face:
- A minimum fine of $500 fine OR perform a minimum of 50 hours of community service.
- The loss of their license for between 6 months and a year (if over 18) OR, if under 18, the total loss of driving privileges until they come of age.
As you can see, underage drinking, even without driving, already has harsh penalties.
Penalties for Underage DUI
If an officer charges your child with an underage DUI, you need to take the case very seriously.
This is because your child technically committed at least two offenses: both underage drinking and underage DUI.
An underage DUI is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
In addition to any related charges, an underage DUI conviction means:
- Forfeiting your child’s driver’s license for a year from the date of conviction.
- Paying a fine of at least $500 OR performing at least 50 hours of community service.
- Adding 6 demerit points to your driving record.
More Egregious Cases
The penalties are even more strict for underage drivers who have a minor passenger in the car when they get a DUI.
They can incur more penalties for having a high BAC as well.
In these cases, the court may decide to give a higher fine and harsher penalties.
The driver could even spend some time in jail.
Restricted License Option
In some instances the court will determine that the loss of one’s license is an unnecessary hardship.
In these cases, they may allow your child to have a restricted license instead.
Your lawyer may also be able to negotiate a restricted license if your child agrees to attend an Alcohol Safety class.
A restricted license means that your child will have limited driving privileges (just to work and school, for example).
However, they must follow certain restrictions.
If they are caught violating these restrictions, the court can take away their license.
Steps to Take if Your Underage Child Gets a DUI
If an officer charges your child with a DUI, there are several steps you should take to help mitigate the damages.
Will list the general process below.
Step 1: Get an Attorney
As with any criminal charge, the first step you should consider is getting a lawyer.
A lawyer will understand the severity of the charges and, in many cases, can negotiate with the court and lessen the charges.
Especially if your child is a first-time offender, there are several options available to them to reduce their charge or lessen the penalties.
Another easy way to help your child is to have them attend alcohol or drivers safety courses.
Generally, this is one of the first things your lawyer will recommend anyway, and judges often take these classes into account.
You need to make sure your child understands that driving is a privilege that a court can easily take away.
Showing that they attended these classes is a good way of showing a judge that they understand this fact.
Step 2: Cooperate
No matter what the circumstances were, you need to take an underage DUI charge seriously.
Even if they were simply driving home after having a single beer with some friends, they broke the law the moment they got behind the wheel.
No amount of arguing on your part will convince the court to change their mind and drop the charges.
You should do your best to educate both yourself and your child about the law, and then cooperate with the consequences of this violation.
Make sure you show up all court dates, have your child take classes, show remorse to the judge.
In most underage DUI cases, the best strategy is to cooperate with the court while simultaneously having your lawyer ask for lower penalties.
Step 3: Restart
After a DUI conviction, there are several steps you should follow to get your child’s life back on track:
Insurance – After a DUI conviction, your insurance provider may refuse to continue covering them, or your rates may increase.
For drivers with a DUI, insurance companies sometimes require double the coverage that they require for other drivers.
The extra insurance for drivers with a DUI is called FR-44 coverage, because there is more “financial responsibility” for these drivers.
Restricted License – If the court approves your child for a restricted license, make sure they’re properly insured before you let them drive again.
Further, make sure they follow all the rules of their restricted license. Failing to do so can result in further criminal charges.
License Reinstatement – If the court instead decides to fully suspend your child’s license, you’ll have to pay a fee at the DMV to get it reinstated when the suspension is over.
They will ask that you provide proof of insurance, so make sure you have that squared away beforehand.
Long-Lasting Consequences of an Underage DUI
In Virginia, there are several long-lasting consequences that can follow your child for years to come.
First, remember that a DUI is a criminal offense. In most cases, it will stay on their criminal record forever.
That means that, in the future, if your child applies for a job, fills out a loan or rental application, or tries to adopt a child, the DUI will show up on their criminal background check.
However, there are options for expunging this conviction from their criminal record.
For example, if your child is 19 or younger, and it has been at least 5 years since their last court date, they can ask the local Juvenile and Domestic Relations court for an expungement.
If they are over 18 (and their last court date was recent) the only ways to get rid of the record are if the judge chooses to dismiss the case, or if your child is acquitted after the trial.
You’ll want to talk over these options with the clerk of the court or an experienced lawyer, as they often apply based on the specifics of your child’s case.
Second, a DUI conviction will remain on your child’s driving record for several years, and might affect their ability to get insurance.
However, after 11 years, the DMV will normally erase the DUI from their driving record, and the points on their record will go back to normal.
Also, 4 years after the original conviction insurance companies will (normally) no longer require FR-44 coverage for auto insurance.
If your underage child was charged with a DUI, you have a long road ahead.
A DUI is a criminal offense that will be on your child’s record forever.
However, in many cases these charges can be mitigated, or argued away altogether.
For this reason, it’s critical that you hire a lawyer to help you understand the charges and what your child’s options are.
Further, while an underage DUI is a serious offense, there are some ways to alleviate the pressure put on by such a conviction.
You’ll want to talk over your options with a lawyer or a clerk of the court to make sure you’re up to date on the specifics of this process.