Underage drinking and driving is a serious offense in Tennessee, and being charged with a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) can have lasting impacts on a young person’s life. In this blog, we will examine underage DWI laws in Tennessee, the consequences of a conviction, and how the experienced DUI attorneys at Barnes & Fersten can assist in securing a more favorable outcome in an underage DWI case.
Tennessee Underage DWI Law: The Basics
Under Tennessee Code § 55-10-415, individuals under the age of 21 are prohibited from driving or being in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants, marijuana, controlled substances, or any substance that impairs their ability to drive safely. The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for underage drivers is 0.02%, significantly lower than the 0.08% limit for adults over 21.
Penalties for Underage DWI in Tennessee
The penalties for an underage DWI in Tennessee depend on the driver’s age. If the individual is between 16 and 20 years old, the offense is considered a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by:
- One-year driver’s license suspension
- A $250 fine
- Public service work, as determined by the court
For those under 18, the penalties are similar but classified as a delinquent act, meaning that the charges will be handled in juvenile court.
The Impact of Underage DWI on Your Future
The effects of an underage DWI can extend far beyond these initial punishments and have a lasting impact on a young person’s future. An underage DWI conviction can appear on background checks, potentially influencing educational opportunities, employment prospects, and even housing applications. For instance, some colleges and employers may hesitate to admit or hire someone with a DWI conviction, and certain scholarships might be out of reach. Similarly, landlords or housing associations may have policies against renting to individuals with a criminal record.
Even without a conviction, the process of dealing with an underage DWI charge can result in significant stress and distraction from critical life events, such as studies, extracurricular activities, and work. The implications of an underage DWI aren’t just about the immediate aftermath; they can ripple out to touch every aspect of a young person’s future.
Underage DWI vs. DUI: Understanding the Differences
While the consequences of an underage DWI conviction are serious, they differ from those of a DUI first offense. Underage DWI does not carry jail time or probation but does result in a mandatory one-year loss of license. However, unlike a DUI first offense, an underage DWI is diversion-eligible, meaning the charge can be dismissed and expunged if certain conditions are met through negotiation with the prosecutor.
Diversion Program for Underage DWI in Tennessee
So, what is a diversion? Essentially, it is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor. In this arrangement, the defendant agrees to comply with certain conditions set forth by the court, which may include educational programs, community service, or substance abuse treatment, among others. In return, upon successful completion of these conditions, the prosecutor agrees to dismiss the charges.
Eligibility for the diversion program typically depends on the defendant’s prior criminal record and the specifics of the current case. It is important to note that, unlike a DUI first offense, an underage DWI conviction does not carry mandatory jail time or probation, which allows for greater flexibility in negotiating the terms of the diversion.
However, while the diversion program may seem straightforward, navigating the legal intricacies and negotiations can be challenging. This is why it is crucial to have an experienced DUI attorney who understands the nuances of the Tennessee legal system and can effectively advocate for your best interests.
In cases where a diversion is successful, it provides a significant advantage – the charge does not result in the mandatory loss of license that typically accompanies an underage DWI conviction. Furthermore, once charges are dismissed and expunged, they will not appear on background checks, preserving the defendant’s opportunities for employment and education.
In essence, the diversion program for underage DWI in Tennessee provides a second chance for young individuals who have made a mistake, allowing them to learn from their actions without being unduly punished in the long term.
Defending Your Future with Barnes & Fersten
Facing an underage DWI charge in Tennessee can be a heavy burden on a young person and their family members. At Barnes & Fersten, we believe in helping our clients through their most challenging times. Our dedicated team of DUI attorneys brings years of experience, a thorough understanding of Tennessee laws, and a commitment to protecting your future. We will work tirelessly to provide the most effective defense possible, while guiding you through each step of the legal process with transparency and empathy. Don’t let an underage DWI charge derail your future – contact the Knoxville DUI attorneys at Barnes & Fersten today for a consultation.
Attorney At Law, Managing Partner
Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUI, criminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.