Every 20 minutes, a person in Texas is killed or injured in a traffic accident where alcohol was involved. This is why Texas law takes a hard line when it comes to drinking and driving. This is notably true when it comes to drivers under the age of 21 who are operating a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol.
Texas has a zero-tolerance policy regarding minors who drink and drive. Under Texas law, a driver under the age of 21 who operates a motor vehicle in a public area while having any detectable amount of alcohol in their system commits the offense of DUI or driving under the influence.
Unlike a DWI, or driving while intoxicated, a minor does not have to prove a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher to violate the law. In fact, a minor driver can be arrested and charged with DUI simply for having the scent of alcohol on his or her breath.
An arrest for DUI triggers two separate cases. One is the criminal charge of driving under the influence. The other is an administrative case overseen by the Texas Department of Public Safety which is completely unrelated to the criminal matter.
If this was the minor’s first arrest for DUI, upon conviction they would potentially face the following penalties:
- A fine of up to $500;
- 20 to 40 hours of community service; and
- Mandatory alcohol education classes.
If this isn’t the minor’s first arrest for DUI, the potential penalties upon conviction become more severe. These include:
- A fine of up to $2000;
- 40 to 60 hours of community service; and
- A jail sentence of up to 180 days.
It should be noted that a minor driver can be arrested for the more serious crime of DWI if the circumstances warrant that charge. Texas law defines being intoxicated as not having the normal use of mental or physical facilities due to the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or both, or having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater.
Upon conviction of driving while intoxicated, a minor driver could face the following penalties:
- A fine of up to $2000; and
- A jail sentence of up to 180 days.
Depending on the level of impairment, a minor suspected of DUI will either be issued a citation or will be arrested following field sobriety testing. If arrested, they will be asked to take a breath or blood test to measure their blood alcohol concentration level. If they were issued a citation, refused to take the test, or if they fail the test by having a blood alcohol concentration in any detectable amount, they will be subject to an administrative license suspension issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety. In all cases, the arresting officer will confiscate their driver’s license and issue a temporary driving permit.
The temporary permit is valid for 40 days from the date of the arrest. On the 41st day following the arrest, their driving privileges will become suspended for:
- 90 days, if this is their first offense and they were issued a citation or they failed the testing;
- 180 days, if this is their first offense and they refused the testing;
- One year, if this is their second offense;
- Two years if this is their third offense.
During this suspension period, all driving for any reason whatsoever is prohibited
The only way to avoid this automatic driver’s license suspension is by requesting an automatic license revocation, or ALR, hearing. Requesting an ALR hearing forces the DPS to prove their case against the minor driver.
The ALR hearing request must be made within 15 days of the date of the DWI arrest. A failure to do so will result in a loss of the right to challenge the ALR suspension.
At the hearing the DPS will have to prove the following:
- The arresting officer had either reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop the minor’s vehicle;
- There was probable cause to conclude that the minor was operating a motor vehicle in a public place while having a detectable level of alcohol in his or her system ;
- The minor was issued a citation for DUI or was arrested, and a request was made to submit to breath or blood testing; and
- The minor either refused the request or submitted to testing and had a detectable amount of amount of alcohol in his or her bloodstream.
The DPS will attempt to use the arresting officer’s written affidavit to prove their case against the minor. An experienced DWI attorney will issue a subpoena and compel the officer to attend the hearing. If the officer fails to show up, the minor will win the case by default. If the officer does show up, there is a chance to show evidence of innocence that was not contained in the police report.
Another benefit of the ALR hearing is that the minor’s attorney will get an opportunity to see the evidence that will be used in court against them on the DUI charge. This will help their attorney to better defend them against the charge of driving under the influence.