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The consequences of underage DUI are harsh and long-lasting

Jail or loss of driving privileges may not even be the worst part of a DUI conviction. The long-term aftermath can be just as devastating.

This is especially true for students and young adults. A DUI on a young person’s record can affect their college plans and future employment, as well as their finances and social standing. It is critical to avoid a conviction if at all possible.

There’s no leniency for youths. In some ways it’s tougher.

Drivers who are under age 21 are subject to the same drunk driving punishments as adults of legal age if their blood-alcohol content is .08 or greater. That includes a criminal conviction for driving under the influence (DUI), possible jail time, and presumptive license suspension of six months.

South Carolina has a Zero Tolerance statute for underage drinking and driving. This means that an under-21 driver who has a blood-alcohol content of just .02 percent blood-alcohol (any alcohol in their system) is subject to criminal penalties, including automatic license suspension of three months, up to 30 days in jail, and fines of $4000 or more.

Additional penalties may apply for second offenses, BAC of .15 or more, refusing a breath test, child endangerment (passengers under 16), or causing an injury accident.

South Carolina also has a “Use/Lose” law to discourage underage drinking. Anyone under 21 who attempts to buy, possess or consume alcohol is subject to mandatory driving restrictions.

The collateral consequences for young drivers

High school students, college students and young adults may experience a host of problems after a DUI or Zero Tolerance arrest:

  • License suspension or restricted driving (only to and from school/work)
  • Ignition interlock on their steering wheel (second offense)
  • Major increase in car insurance rates
  • Loss of eligibility for sports and extra-curriculars
  • Loss of college acceptance, scholarships or financial aid
  • Diminished career paths and employment opportunities
  • Public humiliation (peers, social media)

Drunk driving offenses are not eligible for pre-trial intervention (PTI), which would avoid a criminal conviction and much of the fallout listed above. That leaves two possibilities. A DUI defense lawyer may be able to get the charges dismissed outright or reduced to a non-alcohol offense. The other option is going to trial to challenge the legality of the traffic stop or the merits of the underage drinking offense. Both options require prompt intervention and in-depth familiarity with South Carolina law and the local court system.


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