The NHTSA estimates that out of 814 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in Florida in 2018, 68 of those were caused by impaired drivers under 21. The state views underage alcohol consumption as a serious problem that is aggravated when minors decide to get behind the steering wheel after consuming alcohol or drugs. In order to reduce alcohol-related offenses and deaths among underage drivers, Florida has some of the harshest underage DUI laws in the nation. Our Spring Hill DUI attorneys explain what you need to know about underage DUI penalties in Florida and possible defense strategies.
What Is Considered an Underage DUI Offense in Florida?
In an attempt to stop underage individuals from drinking and driving, the state has harsher laws and near-zero tolerance when compared to DUI laws for drivers over 21. Florida law makes it illegal for any individual under the legal age of 21 whose blood alcohol content is 0.02% or higher to be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle – a much lower limit than the 0.08% BAC limit for drivers over 21.
If a law enforcement officer has enough probable cause to conduct a traffic stop and conduct a breathalyzer test, underage drivers who test above the 0.02% limit will likely face specific administrative penalties prescribed by law.
What Are the Penalties for a Florida Underage DUI?
Penalties for an underage DUI vary depending on the driver’s blood alcohol content and on whether this is their first DUI or if they are a repeat offender. There may also be additional penalties for intoxicated drivers involved in an auto accident. Underage drivers who fail a breathalyzer test will likely be facing an automatic six-month license suspension. If an underage driver’s BAC is between 0.05% and 0.079%, the driver will be required to attend an educational substance abuse course and pass a substance abuse evaluation before being eligible to get their license reinstated.
Drivers convicted of aggravated DUI may receive up to nine months in jail and pay significant fines. In cases where the underage driver caused an accident that resulted in injury and/or property damage, they may be charged with a misdemeanor in the first degree and potentially looking at a one-year jail sentence and a criminal record. Even if an underage driver is charged with a simple DUI offense, that can affect them in many ways in the future – it may be harder and more expensive to find a car insurance policy that will cover anyone with a DUI on their record, for example.
What Are Some Possible Defense Strategies for an Underage DUI?
There are several possible defense strategies a skilled DUI attorney may use to try and de-escalate charges or get them dismissed when possible. Every case is different and not every DUI charge can be reduced or dropped, but a common strategy a DUI attorney may use is to question the legality of the traffic stop.
If the attorney can argue that the law enforcement officer did not have enough probable cause to conduct a traffic stop or violated the driver’s legal rights in any way, any evidence collected against the driver will likely be dismissed. Another possibility is to go after the validity of the breathalyzer results, as it is not always a reliable indicator of one’s blood alcohol content.
How Can a DUI Attorney Help Me?
A DUI is a serious matter in Florida or anywhere else, as it affects the future of an individual in many ways — even more so when that person was underage when they were charged with the DUI. At Carson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, our knowledgeable DUI attorneys can help you fight back and do everything we can to try to get your charges reduced or dismissed. Contact our Spring Hill office and schedule a free consultation and see how we can help.