Many instances of underage drinking are innocent or done in the rebellious spirit of youth. However, if a person under the age of 21 gets behind the wheel while intoxicated, that innocence can come to an end quickly.
That’s because New Jersey has zero tolerance for underage drinking and driving. Under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.14, known as the Baby DUI statute, an underage driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) between 0.01% and 0.08% can be arrested and charged.
Penalties and Fines
Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in New Jersey is a significant offense, whether the driver is of age or underage. While the penalties of a Baby DUI (0.01% to 0.08%) are not as harsh as a full DUI, they are still serious. This includes:
- License suspension: An underage DUI can result in a suspended license for 30 to 90 days. Any driver with a probationary license must also complete a four-hour remedial driving course; the license will also remain probationary for one year. If the driver only has a learner’s permit, he/she must complete the four-hour class and can be suspended for an additional 90 days.
- Treatment: Like a full DUI, the driver may be required to spend up to 48 hours in an “Intoxicated Driver Resource Center” (IDRC) or a similarly approved rehabilitation program.
- Community service: The driver may be ordered to serve 15 to 30 days of community service.
Underage drivers with a BAC of more than 0.08% will not be charged with a Baby DUI; instead, they will be charged under the full NJ DUI law and can suffer all the associated penalties, including heavy fines, jail time, the installation of an ignition interlock device, and more.
Beating An Underage DUI
Defending oneself against a charge of underage DUI is similar to that of any other DUI charge. First and foremost, it requires the help of a skilled attorney with experience handling drunk driving cases.
An attorney can examine the circumstances of the traffic stop to determine if the officer has probable cause to pull over the vehicle. He/she will also scrutinize the arrest; if the driver’s rights were violated or the stop was illegal, then the case could be thrown out or severely weakened.
In some cases, a prosecutor may be convinced to negotiate the charges down to a lesser offense (also called a plea bargain). An attorney will know when it is best to fight a case at trial or to attempt to negotiate.
Other Charges Associated with Underage DUI
Underage drivers charged with a Baby DUI can also find themselves facing other related charges, such as:
- Underage drinking. Clearly, for one to be intoxicated one must also have consumed alcohol. Therefore, the police may have reason to also charge the driver (and any passengers) with underage drinking (N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15). A person under 21 can be charged under this statute for merely having alcoholic beverages in the vehicle.
- Open container law. An open container of alcohol is enough evidence for an officer to conduct sobriety tests. If there is any alcohol left in the container, that is also a violation of NJ’s open container law.
Each of these offenses carries its own penalties. A conviction for either or both will combine with the penalties for a conviction for underage DUI.
Consequences for a First Offense
When it comes to DUIs in New Jersey, judges are rarely lenient, even on a first offense. Even if the driver’s BAC is well under 0.08%, the fact that the driver was too young to be drinking in the first place increases the seriousness of the offense in the eyes of the law. Underage drivers with a BAC over 0.08% will face mandatory jail time, license suspension, and fines.
Consequences for Out-of-State Drivers
The penalties for an underage DUI are the same for all drivers regardless of which state they are from. Drivers should never assume that just because a DUI takes place in another state that it will not affect them. The NJ Motor Vehicle Commission communicates any traffic convictions, including DUI, to the licensing authority of any out-of-state drivers.
How the home state will respond will vary. In many cases, the home state will treat the DUI conviction as though it had occurred there, which could mean facing double penalties, including a license suspension.
In addition, New Jersey almost always requires drivers to appear in traffic court themselves. In rare instances, the court may make an exception for out-of-state drivers. If the court does allow it, the driver will need an attorney licensed in NJ to appear in his/her place.
Expunging Underage DUI Conviction
New Jersey does not consider DUI to be a crime. Instead, it is a serious traffic violation. On the plus side, a conviction for DUI will not result in a criminal record. However, the DUI will appear on one’s driving record and can still appear in background checks (those which pull driving records) and impact one’s ability to get a job.
In addition, DUI convictions cannot be removed from one’s driving record in NJ—expunging the record is not an option. For this reason, anyone charged with an underage DUI must hire an attorney to fight the charges.
Frequently Asked Questions
In NJ, an underage driver with a BAC of 0.01% can be charged with DUI. That would be the equivalent of just one beer or other drink.
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15, a person under 21 may not carry liquor, beer, or wine inside a vehicle.
New Jersey law requires a parent or legal guardian to exercise reasonable supervision or control over a child under the age of 21 when it comes to drinking alcohol. NJ does allow parents or guardians to serve alcohol to minors in the privacy of their own home. Depending on the circumstances, a parent can be liable for a child driving while intoxicated.
Technologically speaking, no, police cannot find out where a bottle of alcohol was purchased. However, a receipt, shopping bag, or other evidence may be used to determine this information.
Who Should I Contact?
If you or your child has been charged with DUI or any other offense in New Jersey, contact an attorney for help. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are skilled criminal defense attorneys with experience helping people prove their innocence and protect their rights. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.