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What happens if an underage driver is accused of drunk driving?

Individuals under age 21 in New York who are accused of drunk driving face different consequences than those who are 21-years-old or older. This is because the legal drinking age in New York, and nationwide, is age 21. Therefore, those under age 21 are subject to the state's "zero tolerance" laws.

What are "zero tolerance" laws? These laws dictate that when an individual who is under the legal drinking age drives with a blood alcohol content level between 0.02 percent and 0.07 percent, he or she will be charged with "driving after having consumed alcohol," and will have to attend an administrative hearing, rather than a criminal court hearing. If an underage driver's BAC level is higher than 0.05 percent but under 0.08 percent it is possible that that driver will have to appear before criminal court, per police discretion. Finally, if an underage driver has a BAC level of 0.08 or over, that individual will have to appear before criminal court.

If an underage driver has to attend an administrative hearing, it is important to understand what it is the police will have to prove in such situations. First of all, the police must show that the individual was indeed the individual driving the car and was under age 21. The police must also show that they lawfully requested the driver to take a breath test or other type of chemical test to determine the driver's BAC level, and that the test was properly administered. The result of the test must show that the driver's BAC level was at 0.02 percent or higher. Finally, the traffic stop must have been legal.

At an administrative hearing, the driver is allowed to present evidence and witnesses in his or her favor. The driver can also retain an attorney, however, since an administrative hearing is not the same as a criminal hearing, the driver will not be assigned a public defense attorney. In addition, if it is found that the driver was indeed drunk, the administrative law judge can rule that the driver's license may be suspended and that the driver will have to pay a civil penalty. Therefore, individuals accused of underage drunk driving should make sure they present a solid argument in their defense.

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