Getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a criminal offense in Texas. Law enforcement can use a variety of chemical tests to determine if an adult is over the legal limit. However, the state has a zero tolerance law for drivers under age 21.
In Texas, it is against the law for a drive under age 21 to operate a vehicle while he or she is intoxicated by any amount of drugs, alcohol or a combination of substances. According to the Texas Alcohol Beverage Code Ann. § 106.041, there is no legal limit for underage drivers. This means any trace of alcohol could lead to criminal charges.
For example, if an adult would consume one beer with a low alcohol content and get behind the wheel two hours later, he or she likely would not be over the legal limit, which is 0.08. There likely would still be a trace of the alcohol, but the presence alone would not constitute an arrest. However, if a juvenile was stopped and alcohol was detected in his or her system, it could lead to an arrest.
This Texas zero tolerance law was amended in 2009 to include the addition of watercraft. This means if a juvenile is stopped driving a boat, jet ski, wet bike or other watercraft with any trace of alcohol in his or her system, it could be considered an underage DWI.
A juvenile DWI, or zero tolerance DWI, in Texas is classified as a Class C Misdemeanor. Penalties for this charge could include a variety of punishments, including a fine of up to $500, as well as attendance at an alcohol awareness class and 20 to 40 hours of community service, which would involve educating the public about misuse of alcohol.
Additionally, a juvenile can face a driver’s license suspension after the first underage driving conviction. The suspension for a first offense would be 60 days, and the minor would not be eligible for an occupational license for the first 30 days. This could have a significant impact on his or her job and education.
In some cases, juveniles in Texas may be granted the opportunity to attend Teen Court, a diversion program composed of the offender’s peers which provides punishment other than criminal consequences. If the person successfully completes the requirements established in Teen Court, he or she can avoid having the underage DWI charge placed on their criminal record.
The State of Texas also allows deferred adjudication for the first DWI offense, and this conviction will be erased from the minor’s record when he or she turns 21 years old. This could be beneficial as the minor heads into adult life.
The penalties for the offenses increase after a second and third offense. A second juvenile DWI conviction could mean, attending the class, $500 in fines, 40 to 60 hours of mandatory community service and a 120-day driver’s license suspension. The minor would not be eligible for an occupational license for the first 90 days of the suspension.
If a juvenile is convicted of a third underage DWI offense, he or he would not be eligible for deferred adjudication. The minor’s driver’s license would be suspended for 180 days, and an occupational license may not be obtained for the entire suspension period. If the minor is 17 years old or older, the fine would increase to $2,000 and include confinement in jail for up to 180 days.