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Photo of Matt M. McClenahen

DUI Charges Can Be Filed Against Sober Minors in Pennsylvania

On Behalf of | May 20, 2013 | DUI

When it comes to DUI in Pennsylvania, not everyone is held to the same standard. The legal BAC threshold in Pennsylvania is .08, however, the legal limit for those under the age of 21 is a mere .02. This .02 legal limit for minors has been in effect in Pennsylvania since 1996, as part of a zero tolerance approach to underage drinking and driving. A legal limit of .02 is the lowest possible threshold realistically possible, while taking into account the margin of error of any chemical tests.

Of course, most people are not impaired at a .02, .03 or even a .06 BAC, whether they are age 20 or 60. Thus, it is not uncommon for sober, young people to be charged with DUI in this Commonwealth, especially in the Penn State/ State College community where I practice law. You may ask how the police catch sober, young people who have had one or two drinks, if they are not impaired. The simple explanation is that young people commit traffic violations at a much higher rate than adults, because they are more likely to be careless and inattentive, not to mention the fact that even the most cautious young person is an inexperienced driver, by virtue of age. That is why auto insurance premiums are higher for young drivers and why you can’t rent a car until you are 25 years old.

The penalties for a sober minor charged with DUI are the same as those for an adult with a BAC between .10 and .159. This amounts to a mandatory minimum sentence of 48 hours in jail followed by six months of parole, a one year driver’s license suspension, a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000, and mandated DUI classes. To add insult to injury, the sober driver will also usually be charged with underage drinking, which will trigger an additional, consecutive driver’s license suspension of anywhere from 90 days to two years. And just for good measure, the charge of “minor prohibited from operating motor vehicle with any alcohol in system” will be tacked on to the list of charges, leading to an additional $100 fine.

As if these draconian penalties for a factually sober driver were not bad enough, there used to be a district attorney in Central Pennsylvania who would not approve ARD for defendants under age 21 charged with DUI. This meant that a 20 year old with a .03 BAC would spend a weekend in jail, lose his driver’s license for more than a year and have a permanent criminal record, while a 21 year old with a .19 BAC could get ARD, allowing him to avoid jail time and a permanent criminal record. Eventually, this district attorney recognized the inherent unfairness of his policy, and began to allow minors charged with DUI to be placed onto the ARD program.

Today, young people charged with a first offense DUI will normally be approved for ARD in all counties in Central Pennsylvania, provided they do not have a prior record. The bad news is that if you use up your ARD at a young age, you will not have it available when you are older. The consequences of a DUI conviction are far more devastating to an adult who must drive to work to support a family, than to a 19 year old, who still lives with his parents.

Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, PA, with extensive experience in DUI defense.

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