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Understanding Underage DUI in Florida

The state of Florida has 0.02% tolerance for underage driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. That is, 0.02% is the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) threshold set by the state’s “zero-tolerance” underage DUI laws. Drivers under the age of 21 with a BAC exceeding 0.02% face an immediate administrative driver’s license suspension for a minimum of six months. Those with a BAC exceeding 0.08% also face arrest on criminal DUI charges and the penalties that come with a conviction.

With extensive experience defending clients who have been arrested for DUI in Tallahassee and Leon County, Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law understand how Florida’s zero-tolerance underage DUI laws work. If the police have arrested or given you or your child a notice of zero-tolerance driver’s license suspension, consult with a criminal defense DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer can help you contest an administrative suspension within 10 days of issuance and, if warranted, help fight the criminal DUI charges in court. Let’s take a closer look at Florida’s zero-tolerance underage DUI laws so that you can better understand how it works and how your lawyer can help mount a successful challenge to the driver’s license suspension and defend against related criminal charges.

How BAC Works in Context with the Law

Blood alcohol concentrations are a measure of the amount of alcohol present in a person’s blood expressed as a percentage by volume—0.02% BAC represents 0.02 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. There is no way to precisely determine how much alcohol one might need to consume to reach a 0.02% level, as BAC levels are affected by a person’s metabolism, weight, body fat, food intake, speed of consumption, and metabolism.

While a 220-pound 20-year-old male might need to drink a beer and a half, two glasses of wine, or one and a half ounces of distilled spirits to breach the 0.02% threshold, a 125-pound 20-year-old female might breach it with half of any of those amounts. The government considers the underage driver’s 0.02% BAC level threshold reasonable for zero tolerance purposes because it’s measurable, yet at a level not likely to impair a driver’s cognitive functions and motor skills. The 0.08% BAC has been set as a DUI threshold nationally because that concentration of alcohol is believed to impair most drivers’ ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.

Underage DUI Penalties and Consequences

Florida’s zero-tolerance underage DUI laws are codified under Florida Statute 322.2616, which gives police the right to demand BAC screening of underage drivers they suspect have consumed alcohol. Underage drivers who refuse the screening face a one-year administrative suspension of their driver’s license or an 18-month suspension if their license has previously been suspended for refusing the BAC testing. As noted, screened underage drivers whose BAC exceeds 0.02% face a six-month license suspension; one-year suspension for second or subsequent offenses.

In issuing the notice of administrative license revocation, police will confiscate the driver’s license but give the driver a 10-day temporary driving permit that becomes valid 12 hours after the issuance of the notice. During this 10-day period, the driver must request an administrative license revocation hearing, or the suspension automatically goes into effect. The hearing allows the driver to challenge the suspension, and skilled DUI lawyers are adept at mounting successful challenges.

Underage drivers who register a BAC reading exceeding 0.08% face criminal DUI charges in addition to the administrative license suspension. The potential penalties and other consequences that come with a first-time DUI conviction include:

  • Minimum $500 fine and assorted mandatory fees that top $500.
  • Up to six months imprisonment
  • Up to one year of probation reporting.
  • Fifty hours of community service.
  • Completion of a substance abuse education course or treatment if a psychological evaluation recommends it.
  • Future difficulty securing auto insurance and elevated insurance premiums.
  • Impacts on employment and educational pursuits.

Aggravating factors can elevate the offense to a third-degree felony, which carries harsher penalties. These aggravating factors include:

  • Causing property damage or personal injury.
  • BAC levels above 0.15%.
  • Having a minor under the age of 18 in the vehicle.

Potential Defense Strategies

Experienced Florida DUI defense lawyers rely on three primary defense strategies to successfully challenge administrative license suspensions and criminal DUI charges:

  • Challenging the probable cause behind the initial traffic stop—if police lack a reasonable excuse for pulling a driver over, subsequent evidence they collected may be ruled inadmissible in the proceedings, scuttling their case.
  • Challenging the BAC testing—if police fail to follow distinct procedures in BAC screening, the results can be ruled inadmissible. Likewise, if your attorney can find any evidence suggesting the screening device could be faulty.
  • Challenging police procedure and paperwork—the procedural rules and paperwork requirements police must follow in issuing an underage DUI administrative license suspension or seeking criminal DUI charges are complex. Any mistakes they make in procedure or paperwork can invalidate the administrative license suspension and make it harder to prosecute a criminal DUI.

A skilled DUI defense lawyer offers underage drivers charged with DUI or facing a zero-tolerance DUI administrative license suspension the best hope for securing a favorable outcome. Experienced DUI defense attorneys are intimately familiar with the intricacies of the law and highly adept at mounting effective defense strategies to nullify DUI charges and prevent administrative license suspensions.

Contact Cowhey + Ward for Your Underage DUI Defense

The criminal defense attorneys at Cowhey + Ward have successfully defended numerous Tallahassee-area drivers against Florida’s zero-tolerance underage DUI laws. Cowhey + Ward lawyers scrutinize the details of each client’s case to strategize a defense designed to prevent administrative license suspension and DUI convictions. To learn how Cowhey + Ward can help you successfully surmount an underage DUI license suspension and/or DUI charges, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.

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