Arizona has a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence (DUI) when you’re under 21. If you get pulled over with any amount of alcohol in your system, you can be charged with an underage DUI—and you will need to work with an experienced DUI defense lawyer to avoid unnecessary penalties.

But, as an underage driver, you can also face the same charges (and penalties) as drivers who are over 21. If your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over 0.08 percent, or if your alcohol consumption impaired your driving abilities even “to the slightest degree,” then Arizona’s underage DUI law does not apply. Instead, you can be prosecuted under Arizona’s normal DUI laws, and you can face penalties that are far greater than those that apply under Arizona’s zero-tolerance statute for underage drivers.

DUI Charges and Penalties for Underage Drivers in Arizona

As an underage driver, understanding the charge (or charges) against you is a key first step toward building an effective defense strategy. Arizona’s DUI laws are uniquely complex, so this is often easier said than done. For example, depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be facing charges including (but not limited to):

  • Zero-Tolerance DUI – Under Section 4-244(34) of the Arizona Revised Statutes, it is illegal “[f]or a person who is under twenty-one years of age to drive or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while there is any spirituous liquor in the person’s body.” This is known as an underage DUI or zero-tolerance DUI, and it is a Class I misdemeanor offense. In Arizona, Class I misdemeanors carry up to a $500 fine and 180 days in jail. Zero-tolerance DUIs can also lead to driver’s license suspensions, fees and surcharges, and other penalties.
  • Ordinary DUI – Under Section 28-1381 of the Arizona Revised Statute, drivers of all ages can be charged with an “ordinary DUI” in two separate circumstances. You can be charged with an ordinary DUI if either: (i) your BAC is above 0.08 percent (but below 0.15 percent); or, (ii) your consumption of alcohol rendered you “impaired to the slightest degree.” Ordinary DUIs carry substantial penalties in Arizona.
  • Extreme DUI – You can be charged with an “extreme DUI” as an underage driver if your BAC is between 0.15 percent and 0.19 percent. Along with fines, fees, surcharges, driver’s license suspension, and other penalties, extreme DUIs carry mandatory jail time under Arizona law.
  • Super Extreme DUI – If your BAC was 0.20 percent or above at the time of your arrest, you can be charged with a “super extreme DUI” under Section 28-1382 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. Super extreme DUIs carry penalties that are even harsher than those for an extreme DUI.
  • Aggravated DUI – While all of the DUIs listed above are misdemeanor offenses, aggravated DUI is a felony. Several factors can lead to an aggravated DUI charge regardless of your BAC (and regardless of your age), including driving on a suspended license, driving the wrong way on the highway, or having a minor under the age of 15 in your vehicle.

Again, these are just examples. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you could potentially be facing a variety of other charges as well. For example, drivers who are under 21 will often be charged with illegally buying, possessing, or consuming alcohol under Section 4-244(9) of the Arizona Revised Statutes; and, if you are being accused of causing an accident while driving under the influence, you could be facing charges for aggravated assault, negligent homicide, manslaughter, or even second-degree murder.

In addition to any court-imposed penalties you may face as a result of your underage DUI charge, a drunk driving conviction can negatively impact your life in many other ways as well. For example, if you are a student, a DUI conviction could lead to discipline at school; and, if you are a non-U.S. citizen, a DUI conviction could negatively impact your immigration status. In any case, your DUI will show up during background checks, and this will make it more difficult to find a well-paying job for years to come.

Defending Against an Underage DUI in Arizona

With these risks in mind, if you’ve been arrested for DUI in Arizona and you are under 21, it is critical that you defend yourself by all means available. When you hire an experienced DUI defense lawyer to represent you, your lawyer will evaluate all potential defense strategies—including (but not limited to):

  • Challenging the Constitutionality of Your Arrest – If any aspect of your traffic stop or arrest was unconstitutional, this could render the prosecution’s evidence against you inadmissible in court. Without evidence, prosecutors won’t be able to secure a conviction.
  • Challenging the Accuracy or Reliability of Your BAC Reading – If you are facing an underage DUI or any other DUI charge based on your BAC, challenging the accuracy or reliability of your BAC reading will be a key defense strategy in your case.
  • Challenging the Prosecution’s Evidence of Impairment – If you are facing an ordinary DUI based on impairment, your lawyer may be able to dispute the prosecution’s alleged evidence of impairment on various grounds.
  • Challenging the Prosecution’s Evidence that You Were “In Physical Control” of a Vehicle – If you weren’t driving when the police approached you, it may be possible to defend against your underage DUI charge by arguing that you weren’t “in physical control” of a vehicle.
  • Negotiating a Plea Deal that Avoids a DUI Conviction – If avoiding a conviction at trial is unlikely based on the facts of your case, then working with your lawyer to negotiate a plea deal that avoids a DUI conviction may be your best option.

Request a Free Consultation with an Experienced DUI Defense Lawyer in Phoenix, AZ

If you are facing an underage DUI in Arizona, we strongly encourage you to contact us for more information. To discuss your case with an experienced DUI defense lawyer in Phoenix as soon as possible, call 480-405-7922 or request a free consultation online today.