DC Underage Drinking

Updated on April 16th, 2024 at 07:22 pm

Regardless of jurisdiction, driving under the influence of alcohol is an offense that is enforced across the US. A part of the reasoning for this trend comes as no surprise: the consumption of alcoholic beverages is very common. Likewise, it is no surprise that many people have tried alcoholic beverages before their 21st birthday.

Regardless of innocent use or intent, drinking and driving under the age of 21 places a driver at even greater risk of criminal charges. This is due to many jurisdictions having either a lower blood-alcohol content (BAC) requirement from a chemical test or having a complete zero-tolerance policy that prohibits any trace amounts of alcohol inside a youth’s blood when driving. Unfortunately, the consequences for receiving a DUI range beyond a criminal record.

Criminal penalties for drinking under the legal age are extensive and span from impacting college acceptances or employment to the ability to travel to foreign countries. Countries prohibiting travel for individuals with a DUI include Australia, Canada, Mexico, and more.

In general, regardless of state, a person under 21 protects their best interest not to drive a motor vehicle when having any amount of alcohol, regardless of whether the alcohol actually impairs their driving ability in the slightest. So, what does a person under 21 face within DC specifically?

How Much Alcohol Can a Person Under 21 Have and Still Legally Drive in DC?

According to DC Code § 25-1002, a person under the legal drinking age of 21 is prohibited from purchasing, possessing, attempting to purchase, or drinking any amount of alcohol. This impacts driving largely. With this language, this means that D.C. is a zero-tolerance jurisdiction. 

If a person under the legal drinking age is found to have any amount of alcohol in their blood, regardless of content, the individual would be arrested for DUI without hesitation. Further, Washington D.C. is a “use/lose” jurisdiction, meaning that the person under the legal drinking age would also face the suspension of driving privileges for a period, depending on the history of subsequent offenses, and may include the mandated use of an ignition interlock device.

Additionally, it is important to note that if an underage driver has a BAC that is considered excessive, additional mandatory jail time will occur. After a chemical test, 5 additional days in jail will be placed if a BAC of at least 0.20% is found, 10 additional days if a BAC of at least 0.25% is found, and 15 additional days if at least 0.30% is found.

What Is the Penalty for Underage Drinking, Purchasing, or Possession in DC?

In Washington, DC, the penalty for underage drinking:

  • 1st Offense is a fine of up to $300 AND a driving suspension for 90 days.
  • 2nd offense is a fine of up to $600 AND a driving suspension for 180 days
  • 3rd offense is a fine of up to $1000 AND a driving suspension for 365 days.

How Does a Person Under 21 Get Processed for a DUI Offense in DC?

If a blood alcohol concentration score above 0.0 is found in the driving person under the legal drinking age of 21, the officer will arrest the driver for DUI. Because of the zero tolerance approach in DC, the actual amount of alcohol in the driver’s blood is not important so long it is above 0.0%.

The process after arrest is very similar to how an adult accused of DUI would be. When pulled over, the interviewing police officer would start an investigation, conduct standardized field sobriety tests, give a breath test if consented to, and conduct other chemical tests if needed. If arrested, the person under 21 is taken into custody and may be arraigned in court for formal charges by the assigned prosecutor.

Is DUI Sentencing Different for Someone Under 18 in DC?

If the person under 21 is over 18, the individual would be charged as an adult.

If under 18, a hired attorney could work with more options on how to navigate the system and attempt to have the court approach the individual as a juvenile. Regardless of age, a BAC score above 0.0 would result in an arrest and license suspension.

An experienced DUI defense attorney at Bruckheim & Patel would be an excellent option to receive the best possible outcome in court for any alleged charges.

What Happens if a Person Under 21 Refuses a Breath Test for DUI?

DC is an implied consent jurisdiction. This means that if an individual is arrested for DUI and refuses to consent to chemical testing, their license is automatically revoked for a year, and a fine will be imposed. This does not only apply to underage drivers. Anyone suspected of DUI falls under the implied consent law.

Contact a Local DC DUI Attorney

Anyone accused of a DUI must retain a DC DUI attorney so that their rights and best interests are represented in the courtroom. This is especially true when underage drivers are charged with a DC DUI rather than possession of alcohol or consumption alone, as there is a large disparity between sentencing severities. Further, an individual could be charged with both criminal offenses at once, resulting in additional penalties.

Given that Washington, D.C. is a zero-tolerance jurisdiction, any trace amounts of alcohol could lead to a youth’s arrest. A youth’s life can be altered drastically beyond the consequences of criminal charges alone, including a ban on foreign travel, revocation of the privilege to drive a motor vehicle, and prevention of college enrollment. Contact Bruckheim & Patel today for a free consultation!


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