Pennsylvania may be a zero-tolerance state for underage DUIs, but that doesn’t mean there’s zero hope. Dealing with a child’s DUI charge is very stressful; however, an experienced lawyer can help.

To help your child through this situation, you need to be armed with knowledge. That is why the team at Skinner Law Firm has put together this guide.

Underage DUI: What West Chester Parents Should Know

For minors, a DUI charge doesn’t go away by itself. It requires you to be proactive because your child’s future is on the line. That’s why it’s essential to learn all you can and get the legal help your child needs.

Penalties for Underage DUI in Pennsylvania

Your child can be charged with a DUI for having any amount of alcohol in their system. Why? Because Pennsylvania is a zero-tolerance state. That means anyone under 21 who drives a vehicle with any amount of alcohol in their system can be charged.

Legal Limit for Minors

Keep in mind that, although a minor can be charged with a DUI for any amount of alcohol in their system, there is a legal limit of .02 percent. If their blood alcohol concentration is higher than that, they could face harsher penalties.

Penalties for Ages 18-21

Also, remember that your child’s age matters. Teens younger than 18 will go through the juvenile justice system. But those who are over 18 but younger than 21 can be charged and tried as adults.

If your child is between the ages of 18 and 20, they could face the following penalties for a first-time DUI:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • Fines of up to $5,000
  • A one-year license suspension
  • Alcohol treatment and highway safety school

Penalties for Ages 18 and younger

If your child is younger than 18, they could face the following penalties for a first-time DUI:

  • A license suspension of six months
  • Probation
  • Time in a juvenile institution
  • A fine
  • Alcohol treatment or education

For a second or subsequent DUI offense, these penalties can be much more significant. But the good news is that a charge is not a conviction. You still have a chance to help your child avoid harsh penalties.

Underage DUI Involving Marijuana

Police can arrest your child for DUI even if they have no alcohol in their system. If they have marijuana or any other controlled substance in their system, they can still be charged with a DUI.

Penalties and defenses for underage marijuana DUIs can be slightly different from alcohol related DUIs. But the charge is just as serious. Your lawyer can help you understand your child’s options for fighting a marijuana DUI.

The Impact of an Underage DUI Conviction

As a parent, you may want your child to face the consequences of their actions; however, this charge and a possible conviction will show on their record for years. That means future employers, colleges, and similar institutions can see it. And they can and will make decisions about your child based on it.

Getting Your Child Out of Jail

If your child was arrested for DUI in West Chester, the first you hear of it might be in a phone call from jail. It’s normal to want to get your child out of jail as soon as possible. Unfortunately, they may be required to remain in jail for a day or two. But after that, you can bail them out.

The sooner you bail your child out, the faster you can begin planning their defense. Your DUI lawyer can help you negotiate bail, the bail process, and speaking with the police after your child’s arrest.

Getting the Car Out of Impound

If your child was arrested for DUI, the police likely took the vehicle and put it into impound. Whether you or your child own the vehicle, a first-offense DUI charge requires the vehicle to be impounded for ten days. And the impound fee can be as high as $175 per day.

In some cases, your lawyer can help you request a waiver to get the vehicle out of impound early. This can save both money and frustration from not having access to your vehicle.

What to Expect at the First Court Appearance

Your child’s first court appearance for an underage DUI will be the arraignment. Here, the charges against your child will be read, and your child will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

If your child is in custody, the arraignment will happen within two or three days. This appearance can be later than that if your child is released from custody.

If your child is going through the juvenile system for their DUI charge, the first court appearance will be similar. The judge will hear the evidence against your child and determine whether they believe your child committed the DUI.

How a Lawyer Can Help

In the criminal system, a lawyer can help you devise a legal strategy before the arraignment so you know which plea your child should enter. In the juvenile system, a lawyer can provide valuable strategic advice before and after the initial hearing.

Legal Options for Underage DUI Charges

It’s common to feel cornered when your child has a pending DUI charge. The good news is you do have options. Your exact legal strategy will depend on the unique details of your child’s case.

Dismissal of Underage DUI Charges

The best outcome for your child’s underage DUI charge is dismissal. Dismissal occurs when the judge throws out the case because there is not enough evidence to justify pursuing it.

In this outcome, your child will face no criminal penalties. Your child’s lawyer can play a crucial role in pursuing this outcome by making a case for why the charge should not stand.

In other cases, the prosecution may drop the charge or agree to a less severe charge. Getting the charge dropped has the same effect as getting it dismissed. And getting the charge reduced can lower the stakes, meaning your child will face much less severe penalties if convicted.

ARD for Underage DUI

Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program offers an alternative to jail for first-time offenders. To get ARD, your child will have to apply for it at the preliminary hearing. From there, they may need to attend an ARD hearing, where the court will decide whether ARD is appropriate.

Your child can still face probation, community service, alcohol treatment, and fines under ARD. But after completing the program, the underage DUI charge will be eligible for expungement.

Expungement of Underage DUI Charge

If your child is acquitted on the DUI charge or completes ARD, the charge may be eligible for expungement. Expungement removes the charge from the view of the public or government agencies. Expungement is a complex process, but the outcome can give your child a fresh start.

Limited Access Relief

In some cases, you may be able to seek limited access relief for your child’s DUI conviction. Limited access relief prevents the public and employers from seeing the charge and conviction, but government agencies can still see it.

Expungement in Juvenile System

It will be easier to get your child’s DUI charge or conviction expunged in the juvenile system. If your child has completed all of the court’s requirements and six months have passed, you can usually get the DUI charge expunged.

What to Look for in a Lawyer

Navigating underage DUIs is a unique skill set. You don’t want to hire just any lawyer to deal with this. Even if you have worked with an attorney in the past, you will want to make sure they have experience with underage DUI charges and the juvenile system.

Questions to Ask Your Lawyer

An experienced lawyer can give your child the best possible shot at getting out of this. Ask any lawyer you are considering the following questions to assess their expertise:

  • Do you have experience with underage DUI charges?
  • Have you secured favorable outcomes for minors and those younger than 21 who have been charged with a DUI?
  • Can you give examples?

Call a West Chester DUI Lawyer

A lawyer can help secure your child’s future. And the sooner you call a lawyer, the sooner they can start building a solid defense.
If your child was charged with underage DUI in West Chester, Phoenixville, Exton, Wayne, Kennett Square, Oxford, Coatesville, or anywhere in Chester County, call Skinner Law Firm. Speak with a trusted DUI lawyer by scheduling a free consultation. Call (610) 436-1410 or contact us online.

Article Author

Michael J. Skinner, the founder of Skinner Law Firm LLC, is a former prosecutor with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

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