A person under the age of 21 who is pulled over under the suspicion of drinking and driving in the state of Tennessee may be charged with a delinquent act or Underage Driving While Impaired, depending on his or her age. Because it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or consume alcohol in Tennessee, the blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.02 percent, far less than the legal limit of 0.08 percent for those over 21 years old.
Persons under the age of 18 suspected of drinking and driving cannot ordinarily be charged with a criminal act, but are instead charged with committing a delinquent act. While the warrant or charging instrument may use the term of Driving Under the Influence or Underage Driving While Impaired, the prosecution will occur in Juvenile Court for an act of delinquency.
Punishment for this act of delinquency is limited to a suspension of the juvenile’s driver’s license for one year and a $250 fine. Unlike adult DUI offenses, no incarceration is permitted.
Persons between 18 and 21 face prosecution for Underage DWI if arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Like the delinquent act, the only penalties for a conviction of this offense is license suspension for one year and a $250 fine. It is, however, a Class A misdemeanor, and is considered to be a lesser included offense of DUI.
An Underage DWI conviction cannot be expunged. A finding of delinquency, however, can be expunged. Thus, a person 18 or older who is charged and convicted of Underage DWI will always have this conviction on his or her record, but a juvenile found to be delinquent as the result of driving while impaired or under the influence is eligible to have his or her juvenile record expunged.
There are multiple grounds and circumstances for expungement, but a formal request to the juvenile court is required. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you consult with a lawyer when considering whether to seek an expungement of a delinquent act.
Regardless of the age of the driver, being convicted of a DWI in Tennessee can be a difficult experience that can negatively affect a person’s life. Whether you face a delinquent act or a criminal offense, a negative outcome will have a very serious impact on school and job opportunities in the future. For this reason, if you or someone in your family has been charged with an underage DWI, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney who is experienced in defending underage drivers in court.