The state of Texas is strict on those found guilty of Driving Under the Influence. Moreover, a DUI by Minor conviction can dramatically affect your life at a time when you are working hard to build a strong future. With a DUI by Minor charge, Texas motorists under the age of 21 don’t need to reach the standard blood alcohol limit (BAC) of 0.08; they can be arrested and charged for any amount of alcohol in their system. The guide below will help you better understand a DUI by Minor charge and the importance of partnering with an experienced lawyer who can work to protect your freedoms.
DUI by Minor in the Texas Penal Code
The Texas Penal Code defines driving under the influence by a minor in the following way:
Sec. 106.041. (a) A minor commits an offense if the minor operates a motor vehicle in a public place, or a watercraft, while having any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor’s system.
The state of Texas is a “No Tolerance” state. Unlike with laws for those 21 or older, a minor need not have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08. An individual under the age of 21 who has any detectable level of alcohol in their system is subject to criminal charges.
When the individual is either at .08% or above, or below this level but shows clear signs of impairment, the charge is DWI. However, even if the minor shows no signs of intoxication but has any level of detectable alcohol in their system, the court can still charge the young person with DUI. In this case, it is sometimes referred to as DUIA (Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol).
Texas Laws Regarding DUI for Individuals Under 21
Texas classifies DUI by Minor a few different ways. At the very minimum, the state will designate the crime as a class C misdemeanor. Depending on the individual’s age though, and the number of prior DUI convictions, the state can instead classify the offense as a class B or class A misdemeanor, respectively, or even a third-degree felony. The following sections describe the crime and its associated penalties for each age group.
Consequences for DUI Offenses Committed by Minors Under 17
When law enforcement discovers an individual older than 10 years but under 17 years of age operating a motor vehicle or watercraft in a public place with alcohol in their system, the court will try the individual as a juvenile.
A first-time DUI conviction for a Texas motorist under the age of 17 is a class C misdemeanor and is punishable by up to $500 in fines, a minimum 60-day to 180-day license suspension, 20 to 40 hours of community service, and required attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
For a second offense, an individual under 17 years of age will face another class C misdemeanor, up to a $500 fine, a 120-day to two-year license suspension, 40 to 60 hours of community service, and attendance in an alcohol awareness course.
The state of Texas classifies a third offense by an individual under 17 years as Delinquent Conduct by Minor. For this charge, the individual will face another fine of up to $500, 40 to 60 hours of community service, and a driver’s license suspension of 180 days to two years. It is important to note that for individuals not yet licensed, a DUI charge can delay their ability to obtain a driver’s license by a year or longer.
Penalties for DUI Offenses Committed by Minors Aged 17 to 20
The state will try individuals 17 and above as adults instead of juveniles. If law enforcement discovers a BAC of less than 0.08, the charge will only be for a class C misdemeanor. However, for levels above 0.08, the penalties for an adult DUI/DWI conviction include:
First Offense: Class B Misdemeanor
- a fine of up to $2000
- a jail term of 72 hours (3 days) to 180 days (6 months)
- driver’s license suspension from 90 days to one year
- possible installation of an Ignition Interlock Device
Second Offense: Class A Misdemeanor
- a fine not to exceed $4000
- jail term from 30 days to one year
- driver’s license suspension from 180 days to 18 months
Third or Subsequent Offense: Third Degree Felony
- a fine of up to $10,000
- prison term from two to 10 years
- driver’s license suspension from 180 days to two years
Legal Implications of Minor in Possession of Alcohol
A charge of Minor in Possession (M.I.P.) relates to any individual under the age of 21 who is in possession, ownership, or control of an alcoholic beverage. Several details make laws surrounding Minor in Possession charges somewhat complex.
For instance, a minor may be in proximity of an alcoholic beverage that belongs to someone else, but they cannot touch, attempt to purchase, hold, transport, or have any contact with the alcohol.
These details relate to a legal concept known as “constructive possession.” Constructive possession refers to instances in which an individual does not have direct possession of the beverage or drug but does have ownership, dominion or control over the same. This includes a number of situations. For example, a minor may not:
- be in an automobile where alcohol is readily accessible to any minor passenger.
- gather beer cans or liquor bottles scattered about.
- hold a friend’s beer while their friend searches for their phone or keys or puts on their jacket.
- sit at a table where several other people are pouring and drinking beer, wine or spirits from a pitcher or other container.
A minor may however, possess and consume alcohol in the visible presence of his or her parent, legal guardian, or spouse. A minor may also possess alcohol in the course of his or her employment if employed by a licensee or permittee and the state does not prohibit the action by law. A conviction of Minor in Possession (M.I.P.) is subject to the following penalties:
First Offense: Class C Misdemeanor
- a fine not exceeding $500
- 8 to 12 hours of community service
- mandatory attendance in an alcohol awareness course
- driver’s license suspension for 30 days
Second Offense: Class C Misdemeanor
- a fine not exceeding $500
- 20 to 40 hours of community service
- attendance in an alcohol awareness course
- 60-day license suspension
Third Offense (Under 17 years of age): Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision
- a fine of up to $500
- 20 to 40 hours of community service
- driver’s license suspension of 180 days
Third Offense (17 years of age or older but less than 21): Class B Misdemeanor
- a fine of $250 to $2000
- 40 to 60 hours of community service
- confinement in jail for up to 180 days
- 180-day driver’s license suspension
- no Deferred Disposition available to minors who commit a third or subsequent violation
Providing Alcohol to Minors: Legal Ramifications
In Texas, any adult or minor who furnishes alcoholic beverages to a minor faces a class A misdemeanor and the following penalties:
- a fine of up to $4000 and/or
- confinement in jail from 30 days to one year
- driver’s license suspension for 180 days up to 18 months
Additionally, the state of Texas can hold an individual 21 years or older found guilty of providing (selling or giving) alcohol to a minor, responsible for damages caused by the minor in question. This includes property damages resulting from automotive accidents or other physical damage caused by the minor. Even more unsettling, this law can apply to injuries or even death to the minor or death caused by the minor’s negligence following the consumption of alcohol.
Effective Defense Strategies for DUI by Minor Charges
There are a number of strategies for fighting DUI charges. Each one carries its own benefits and challenges, depending on the unique aspects of your case. Your attorney will know which one(s) to use for the best possible outcome. A few of these strategies include:
File a Motion to Suppress
Your attorney can request that the court exclude certain evidence from your case if law enforcement or other individuals obtained it unlawfully.
Take Your Case to Trial
This isn’t always a good idea. However, the prosecution must prove every aspect of their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If your lawyer has good reason to believe that the prosecutor’s case isn’t strong enough, they may take this route.
Negotiate a Beneficial Plea Bargain
If your lawyer believes a conviction is inevitable, you may decide to plead guilty to certain charges instead of fighting them in exchange for decreased penalties.
Hire a Texas Lawyer With DUI by Minor Experience
A DUI by Minor conviction will negatively impact your life in several ways. You may face considerable difficulties either finding or holding onto jobs, accessing financial resources, or getting into the school of your choice. You must defend yourself to protect the life you want to live.
The best way to do so is by hiring a skilled attorney, experienced at dealing with underage Texas DUI charges. Your lawyer will do everything they can to convince the state to lower or even dismiss the charges against you, or at least decrease the penalties of your conviction. If you, your child, or another loved one are facing underage Texas DUI charges, contact a lawyer today.
Ben has vast experience in defending criminal cases ranging from DWIs to assault, drug possession, and many more. He has countless criminal charges dismissed and pled down. Among many other awards, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Texas and winner of Top 40 under 40.