According to data from the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, teen deaths related to drunk driving have decreased in recent years, and tough teen driving laws dating to 2008 are cited as a major factor behind the decrease. Drivers under age 18 are subject to several restrictions when obtaining a driver’s license in Connecticut, and the penalties for violating the rules start with an initial 48-hour license suspension and often include mandatory driver training classes. For teen drivers convicted of driving under the influence, even harsher penalties may be imposed.
Connecticut’s Underage DUI Penalties
Teen drivers are subject to strict penalties for DUI convictions. In Connecticut, drivers age 21 and older are considered legally intoxicated if their blood alcohol content (“BAC”) is greater than 0.08 percent. Connecticut has a Zero Tolerance policy; drivers under age 21 are considered legally intoxicated if their BAC is 0.02 percent or greater. Even if you refuse to take a breath, blood or urine test, you can be prosecuted if law enforcement determines that you drove a motor vehicle while your ability to operate was impaired.
On January 1, 2012, Connecticut’s Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs laws changed to impose the same consequences for drivers convicted of DUI, regardless of age. Now, mandatory sentencing dictates the penalties for a first, second, third or subsequent DUI conviction.
For a first DUI conviction, the underage driver’s license will be suspended for 45 days, and he or she must use an ignition interlock device for one year. A second DUI conviction carries a license suspension of 45 days or until he or she reaches age 21, whichever is longer. An underage driver convicted of a second DUI must use an ignition interlock device for three years. For a third or subsequent conviction, the driver’s license will be permanently revoked; however, the driver may petition to have his or her license reinstated six years after the date of revocation.
A DUI conviction can have a significant impact on an individual’s license. A license suspension can severely limit one’s ability to get to school or work, and the costs associated with a DUI conviction can be high.
“Collateral Consequences” of Underage DUI
In addition to facing criminal charges, you need to be aware of the “collateral consequences” of underage DUI:
- When a driver under the age of 21 is arrested for DUI, the arrest gets reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”). Once DMV receives notice of your arrest for DUI, they will send you a letter, notifying you that you are entitled to an administrative hearing. At this hearing, you can challenge certain issues such as whether you were operating the vehicle, or whether you refused to take a blood, breath or alcohol test. If you do not appear for the hearing, or you do not prevail at the hearing, you will lose your license for the time period specified in the letter.
- If you refuse to submit to a blood, breath or urine test, you face a one year license suspension. If you submit to a test and the results are .02 or higher, you face a six month suspension of your license; if the test results yield a BAC over .16, you face a 240 day license suspension. (Note: These administrative sanctions are separate and apart from whatever happens in criminal court.)
- Under certain circumstances, underage drivers can get a special operator’s permit to drive back and forth for educational purposes. However, if you drive while your license is suspended for a DUI, and you do not have a work/school permit, or if you drive outside of the confines of that permit, you risk the possibility of mandatory jail time.
- Even if your DUI charge eventually gets dismissed in criminal court, if your license was suspended by DMV for a DUI arrest, notice of that license suspension will appear on your driving record for ten years. This means that if a background check company looks at your motor vehicle record, they will find out that you were arrested for a DUI. Also, automobile insurance companies periodically conduct background checks into your driving record. If your insurance provider discovers that you were charged with a DUI, they could increase your rates, refuse to renew–or even cancel–your policy.
Case study: the law is unforgiving for underage DWI drivers
GoUpstate.com reports that back in 2012, an 18-year-old was accused of killing another driver in a collision. The victim died immediately, but the defendant was injured and was airlifted to the hospital, which did not give Highway Patrol officers the opportunity to immediately assess his sobriety level. Although the case started with only minor charges against the defendant, once tests were able to be done at the hospital, they revealed the student’s blood alcohol level was 0.03, and he tested positive for methamphetamine, benzodiazepines and marijuana. This caused the charges to be upgraded to reckless homicide and felony DUI resulting in death. He was then granted a $50,000 bond, had to agree to be tested for drugs, as well as wear an ankle tracking device and not drive for two months.
The moral is that just because criminal charges don’t come immediately doesn’t mean you’re scot free – it means that you have the opportunity – and need – for sound legal counsel.
Even suspicion of a tiny amount of alcohol in the system of an underage driver can cause major problems.
A 21-year-old pled guilty in 2015 for two deaths caused by texting while driving when he was 19. He was charged with having veered into oncoming traffic and striking the victims’ vehicle because he was texting instead of paying attention to the road. But at the time of the accident, there was a quesiton about the driver’s blood-alcohol level. Tests at the scene showed his BAC at 0.0, but later, a reading at the hospital came up as .02. His attorney called that a false positive, and it sounds like a very low level, but for underage drivers, a very low level is the actual limit – not 0.08, but in Connecticut, it’s .02.
If you’re underage, the law is extremely strict for having alcohol in your system, and if you test for pretty much anything, you could be in big trouble.
These are just some of the issues that arise when an individual under the age of 21 gets arrested for a DUI in Connecticut. If you or your teenager has been arrested on suspicion of DUI, you should contact an experienced DUI defense attorney immediately.