In many instances, such as where a person’s alcohol concentration is less than 0.08 and that person is not appreciably impaired, it may not be unlawful for a person who is at least 21 years of age to consume an alcoholic beverage and then get in their vehicle and drive. However, the same cannot be said for a person who is under the age of 21. North Carolina General Statute (N.C.G.S.) 20-138.3(a) is a zero-tolerance offense; meaning that this law does not allow for any amount of alcohol, or other drug for that matter, to be in a person’s body who is under 21 years of age while they are driving.
Specifically, N.C.G.S. 20-138(a) makes it a crime for a person less than 21 years of age to drive a motor vehicle on a highway or public vehicular area (a) while consuming alcohol; or (b) at any time while he has remaining in his or her body any alcohol or controlled substance previously consumed.
Implied Consent & Breathalyzer for Underage Drunk Driving
While not classified as an impaired driving offense, driving after consuming by a person under 21 is an implied consent offense. This means that if a police officer suspects you of violating this law, he or she may ask you to submit to a breath test. You do not have to blow; in fact, your case is much stronger if you refuse the breathalyzer. Although a police officer will make you think you must, they simply cannot force you to do so.
If you blow a 0.03 the police officer will be able to charge you with driving after consuming by a person under 21 then testify at your trial that you blew a 0.03. The breath test results, or your refusal to take the test, may be used by the judge in determining whether alcohol was present in your body.
Underage Drinking & Driving Penalties
In North Carolina, driving by a person less than 21 years old after consuming alcohol or drugs is a Class 2 misdemeanor. If you are ultimately convicted of this offense, you are potentially facing some harsh consequences.
Once the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) receives notice of your conviction of driving after consuming by a person under 21, your driver’s license must be revoked under N.C.G.S. 20-13.2(a). The period of this revocation will last for one year. However, if your driver’s license is revoked solely for driving after consuming by a person under 21, you may be eligible for a limited driving privilege.
Fines and Jail Time
Driving by a person less than 21 years old after consuming alcohol or drugs is a Class 2 misdemeanor in North Carolina. All Class 2 misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.00.
Convictions for Both DWI & Underage Impaired Driving
To be convicted of DWI, you must be either appreciably impaired or your breath/blood alcohol concentration (BAC) must be at least a 0.08. However, if there is any amount of alcohol in your system at all, even if you’re not appreciably impaired and even if your BAC is less than 0.08, you can be convicted of driving after consuming under 21. This means that if your BAC is 0.03 you are not likely to be convicted of DWI, but it is much more likely that you could be convicted of driving after consuming by a person under 21, asssuming that you are under 21 years of age.
The other distinction between these two offenses is your age. That is, you can be convicted of DWI even if you are less than 21 years old. However, to be convicted of driving by a person less than 21 years old after consuming alcohol or drugs, you must be less than 21 years old at the time of the offense.
If you are convicted of both driving by a person less than 21 years old after consuming alcohol or drugs and DWI, there are limitations on the punishment a judge may impose. Namely, the combined punishment for the two convictions cannot be more than maximum punishment allowed for the DWI conviction.
Have You Been Arrested for a DWI in Charlotte, NC?
If you are facing DWI charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.