If your teen faces a DWI charge, you're undoubtedly concerned, both for the penalties your child may face and any long-term consequences. You may also be concerned about whether you can face charges for your teen's drinking and driving. First, you aren't alone. Teenage drinking and driving is a common problem. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in ten teenagers will drink and drive in high school. Moreover, drivers ages 16 to 20 are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when their blood alcohol content is above .08% than they are when they haven't been drinking.
Research shows that parental involvement, minimum legal drinking ages, zero-tolerance laws, and graduated driver's license systems keep teens safer on the roads. As a result, Texas takes underage drinking and driving very seriously. While teens driving with a BAC over the legal limit can face a DWI just as adults can, police can charge teens with any trace of alcohol in their blood with DUI. Teens can face a DUI charge even if their BAC doesn't rise to the level of intoxication under the DWI statute. While you might face repercussions if you supply alcohol to a minor, generally, you won't face charges for your child's behavior.
Supplying Alcohol to a Minor in Texas
Adults and other minors who give alcohol to a minor can face stiff penalties in Texas.
- Making Alcohol Available: Making alcoholic beverages available to a minor is a Class A misdemeanor. If you give alcohol to a minor, you could face fines of up to $4,000, jail for up to a year, or both. The state can also suspend your driver's license for up to 180 days.
- Liability for Damages: Under the law, anyone 21 or older can be legally liable for any damages caused by the intoxication of a minor under 18. This liability happens if the adult knowingly provided alcohol to the minor or knowingly allowed someone to serve or provide alcoholic beverages on premises they owned or leased. This liability doesn't extend to parents or legal guardians.
- Sale to a Minor: Selling alcohol to a minor is a Class A misdemeanor and can be punished with up to $4,000 in fines and one year in jail.
DWI Versus DUI
If the police arrest your child for drinking and driving, they may face various charges depending on their age and BAC. Any drinking by those under 21 is illegal in Texas. However, your child could face differing charges depending on their age and the circumstances of the arrest.
1. Driving While Intoxicated
In Texas, operating a motor vehicle or a watercraft while intoxicated in a public place is illegal. Someone is “intoxicated” if:
- They no longer have the normal use of their mental or physical faculties due to the use of drugs or alcohol, or
- They have a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher.
If your child is 21 or older and arrested for drinking and driving, they will face a DWI charge. Those under the legal drinking age can also face DWI charges if they meet either of the above standards. However, Texas also has a special statute for minors accused of drinking and driving.
2. Driving Under the Influence
In Texas, driving with any detectable amount of drugs or alcohol in the system is illegal for those under 21. Even if your child's BAC doesn't reach the legal limit of .08%, they can face a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol, also known as DUI or DUIA. “A minor commits an offense if the minor operates a motor vehicle in a public place, or a watercraft, while having any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor's system.” See Tex. Penal Code. § 106.041 (2009). Texas is a zero-tolerance state, so no amount of alcohol is legal for those under 21. Police can also charge minors with DWI if they are legally intoxicated.
In Texas, drivers also give “implied consent” to blood alcohol testing. If a police officer suspects your minor child of drinking and driving, they can request a breath test without your presence. If your child refuses a BAC test, the officer can get a warrant for a blood test. If they refuse a BAC test, they face a mandatory license suspension of 180 days to two years.
DUI and DWI Penalties for Minors
Penalties for a DWI and a DUI vary slightly. Moreover, the penalties for DUI vary based on how old the driver was at the time of the arrest.
1. DWI Penalties for Minors
DWI penalties for adults and minors are the same.
- First Offense: A first offense is typically a Class B misdemeanor with no aggravating factors. Possible penalties include jail from 72 hours to 180 days, a fine of up to $2,000, and a driver's license suspension from 90 days up to one year.
- Second Offense: A second DWI offense is a Class A misdemeanor. Possible penalties include jail for 30 days to one year, a fine of up to $4,000, and a license suspension of 180 days to two years.
- Third or Subsequent Offense: A third DWI is a third-degree felony. Penalties include up to a $10,000 fine, prison for two to ten years, and a license suspension of 180 days to two years.
For DWIs in Texas, the state also imposes a $3,000 fine for the first DWI in 36 months, $4,500 for a subsequent DWI within 36 months, and a $6,000 fine for DWIs with a BAC over .15%.
2. DUI Penalties for Minors Under 17
DUI penalties are similar to DWI penalties but vary according to the age of the driver. DUI penalties for drivers ages 17 to 20 are typically the same as those for a DWI.
- First Offense: A first DUI conviction for a driver under 17 is a Class C misdemeanor. Penalties include a $500 fine, 20 to 40 hours of community service, a license suspension of up to 180 days, and a mandatory alcohol education class.
- Second Offense: A second DUI conviction for a driver under 17 is a Class C misdemeanor. Possible penalties include a $500 fine, 40 to 60 hours of community service, a license suspension of up to two years, and a mandatory alcohol education class.
- Third Offense: A third DUI conviction for drivers under 17 is considered “Delinquent Conduct by a Minor” and carries penalties of a $500 fine, 40 to 60 hours of community service, a mandatory alcohol education class, and a license suspension of up to two years.
For drivers under 18, the court may require that a parent attend the alcohol education class with their child. In some cases, the court may replace a license suspension with additional community supervision and installation of an interlock ignition device that will prevent a car from starting if the driver was drinking.
If your child refused a BAC test, they'll face a mandatory license suspension as well.
- First DUI: For a first DUI, your child will face a license suspension of 180 days.
- Repeat DUI: For a second or subsequent DUI, your child will face a two-year license suspension for refusing a BAC test.
There can also be collateral consequences to a DWI or DUI conviction or a conviction for providing or selling alcohol to a minor. For adults, a conviction can affect a future career or the ability to obtain or renew professional licensing. For a minor, a conviction can affect everything from college or graduate school admission to the ability to get a summer job or obtain student loans. There can be serious long-term consequences to what seems like no big deal to many young drivers.
Hire a Board Certified DWI Expert
If your child is facing a DWI or DUI charge, or if you are facing charges related to their DWI, you need a defense attorney who is considered an expert in DWI and criminal law defense. Only those Board Certified in these areas can claim the title of “expert” in Texas DWI and criminal law. Attorney Doug Murphy is one of only two attorneys in Texas who is Board Certified in both DWI Defense and Criminal Law.
Doug's DUI Defense Board Certification comes from the National College of DUI Defense (NCDD), accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also Board Certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Doug has extensive experience representing clients charged with their first DWIs and minors charged with DUI.
Doug understands how scary it can be if the police arrest your child, and he brings more than 20 years of experience in criminal defense and DWI work to the table. Best Lawyers in America also recently named Doug the “Lawyer of the Year” for 2021 for DWI defense. Let Doug fight for you too. Call us at 713-229-8333 today to set up a consultation.