Underage Drivers over the Legal Limit of .08

Sometimes, I do get clients who are minors, who are under the age of 21, who are over the limit. Their BAC is greater than .08 or they are impaired by marijuana or some street drug or a combination of both, and so they are charged with a DUI. Lawfully under the statute, they can be charged with DUI or driving with a measurable amount of controlled substance, a metabolite of marijuana or something like that.

If it’s a DUI and they’re 19 and 20 years old at the time of the arrest, the first offense suspension could be 6 months. If it’s a second offense, it could be a license suspension of 2 years.

The Driver’s License Penalties Are Onerous for Underage Drivers with Multiple Offenses

Then, if they are under the age of 19, the first offense would result in a 2-year suspension and a second offense would result in them waiting until they’re age 21 to get their license.

We’re talking someone who is 16 or 17 years old looking at losing their license until they’re 21 years old for a DUI in Utah. Those are pretty harsh sanctions by the driver’s license division.

Now, they’re DUI, they still have to go to court and appear in front of the judge and they face the possible sanctions for DUI that the judges ordered to impose under the statute. That includes a combination of fines, penalties like community service, it could be jail time, treatment, counseling, all of the things that are required under the DUI statute.

Once again, if they are under 18 years of age, they would be in the juvenile court dealing with the juvenile court judge and the juvenile court probation system. If they were 18 or older, they would just be in the adult court like any other DUI case.

Interviewer: Let me ask you, do you think that minor’s habit or their behaviors that changed over the years?

Matthew Nebeker: I don’t believe so.

Interviewer: It kind of stayed the same?

While the Penalties for DUIs Have Changed and are More Harsh, Minor Driver’s Decision-making Skills Have Not Changed and They Are Likely to Face an Underage Alcohol-Related Charge

Matthew Nebeker: I think that minors are minors.  I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think their brains are fully developed yet and they don’t make the best choices. They don’t realize the consequences of their choices before they make those choices.

People underage, they still want to experiment, they’re still going to experiment. They’re going to try these things. Most of them don’t know about these harsh sanctions. The DUIs have gotten stricter and harsher over the years, but I don’t think the minors have changed.

There Are a Slightly Higher Percentage of Male Underage Drivers with Alcohol-Related Charges

Interviewer: Have you noticed between any patterns that are different between male and female under 21?

Matthew Nebeker: I tend to see a few more males under 21 that have these issues with underage drinking and use of marijuana. I would say that, in my opinion, the males are probably a little more inclined to experiment and then because of that, there’s more of a large percentage of them that get caught.

Interviewer: Do you think that male and female clients that are under 21 they have different needs? If so, do you work with them differently?

Matthew Nebeker: I don’t really know if they have different needs or not. When they come to the door, my job is to assess their case, find out if there are any legal defenses to their case, to their charges to try and maintain their driving privilege, their driving status.

If I can’t find a good legal reason to have the case thrown out or dismissed, then I look for a reason to have it reduced, lessen the impact on them. Once that decision is made of a guilty plea or adjudication or a guilty finding by a jury, then it’s really probation and the treatment providers to assess their needs and make those decisions and get them the help that they need.

Are Underage Drivers Treated Differently in the Legal System?

Interviewer: What about prosecutors, and judges, and juries, how do they deal with minors in court? Are they treated any differently? I mean, is there more of a bias or less of a bias, you think?

Matthew Nebeker: Yes, they are treated quite a bit differently. When you are talking to someone who’s 18 years or older who’s in the adult court system, they are treated, as far as the court goes, just like any other person who’s charged with DUI. This includes whether the guy’s 50 years old or 30 or whatever, the 18 year old is treated just like the older adult.

They just kind of categorize them and they just put them into these slots. If it’s a first offense, judge will have to order this. If it’s a second offense, judge will have to order this.

Really, I think there is some differences and some judges recognize that difference, and some judges do treat the age groups differently. There’s one judge in particular in one of the jurisdictions that I practice in.

Some Judges May Impose the Maximum Sentence on an Underage Driver with an Alcohol-Related Charge

When he has a young person, someone who’s 18 to 21 or 22 that’s found guilty or pleads guilty to a charge, he routinely gives them a jail sentence. Those jail sentences are typically more than what the statute requires.

On the first offense DUI, the statute says there needs to be 2 days in jail, this one particular judge, he might give up to 20 or 30 days in jail. I’ve asked other attorneys about this and why they think he does that. The only thing that we could conclude is that he’s trying to send a message to these younger individuals that, “It has stop now; it has to stop here. I’m going to give you wake up call that’s like no other wake up call. You’re going to see what jail is like, and hopefully because I am doing this, I won’t see you again.”

I can say that, that effect did happen with one of my clients. One of my clients, he decided to plea to a class B misdemeanor and the judge gave him 60 days in jail, and he was, I believe, 21 years old. The judge gave him 60 days in jail for B misdemeanor. The other male that was involved with him, the co-defendant, they call him, was assigned to another judge. That individual was convicted of a felony and he only got 30 days in jail. He was convicted of a harsher, more severe crime, one with a more severe penalty range.

Interviewer: It sounds like the judge was trying to impose some sort of moral idea where they teach you a lesson because we don’t to see you here again.

Matthew Nebeker: That’s what we concluded. Then, when my client, called me from jail a few times asking me, “Why did this happen? Can we request another hearing?” Of course, I always accepted his calls. I had to explain to him that that’s the way this judge is. I even asked some of the other attorneys who appear in front of this judge quite frequently and they agreed with me that that’s the way that he is.

There are other judges that might do the same thing in other jurisdictions. Yes, if there are some differences the way the juvenile or the younger people are treated versus the true adults in their 30s and 40s, it depends on the jurisdiction. If we are talking about people who are under 18 years of age who are in the juvenile court system, that’s a totally different system than the adult court.

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