A minor charged with driving under the influence (DUI) can see their present and future severely impacted. Called a minor DUI in Washington state, the penalties are less severe than those charged with a standard DUI offense would face; however, they can equal those of an adult offender, depending on the circumstances of the incident. A minor offender does not have to show the obvious effects of impairment to face arrest or conviction.
Definition of Minor DUI
Regardless of a driver's age, it illegal to operate a motor vehicle in Washington while impaired by drugs, alcohol or a combination of both. According to the Washington State Department of Licensing, a driver faces a standard or "per se" DUI charge with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more within two hours of being behind the wheel. RCW Section 46.61.502 is specific regarding the amount of THC allowed – a person operating a vehicle faces a "per se marijuana" charge with five nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood.
A minor DUI differs from an adult DUI in that there is no mandatory fine or jail time. However, an underage DUI is a still a misdemeanor with penalties attached to it, including probation and other restrictions. A DUI conviction can also impact a driver's insurance rates and employment opportunities. Drivers under 21 with a (BAC) level of 0.02 percent to 0.079 percent within two hours of driving, or those who drive with any concentration of THC in their blood, can face charges.
DUI Penalties for Minors
Washington considers a minor DUI to be a different crime than a standard DUI. The most jail time attached to a minor DUI is 90 days; offenders younger than 18 will serve time in a juvenile detention facility. Minors can also receive up to two years of probation. The maximum fine for an underage driver facing a DUI charge is $1,000.
According to NOLO, the state doesn't look at a minor DUI as a DUI prior. This means if an underage driver gets a second DUI, the court sees it as a first offense. Nonetheless, these convictions remain on an offender's criminal record, which can influence that person's sentencing for future crimes as an adult.
Minors Face Standard DUI Penalties
Just because a driver is underage doesn't mean they can't face the same penalties as adults in a DUI case. An impaired minor who exceeds the legal limit of drugs and alcohol for adult drivers faces the same conviction and sentencing of those charged with a standard DUI. The penalties are:
- First offense: A mandatory minimum of 24 hours of jail time and a minimum fine of $941.
- Second offense: A mandatory minimum of 30 days of jail time, up to 60 days of electronic home monitoring, and a minimum fine of $1,196.
- Third offense: A mandatory minimum of 90 days of jail time, up to 120 days of electronic home monitoring, and a minimum fine of $2,046.
An offender can also receive probation for up to five years, which comes with a few mandatory conditions. If the terms of probation are violated, a driver faces a mandatory 30 days in jail and a 30-day license suspension. These penalties can be more severe if the driver has refused a chemical test or had a BAC level of at least 0.15 percent at the time of the traffic stop. During probation, a driver cannot:
- Drive without a valid license.
- Drive without carrying proof of insurance.
- Drive while impaired.
- Drive without a court-mandated ignition interlock device (IID).
- Refuse a chemical test.
Licensing Consequences for Minors in Washington
The Washington State Department of Licensing imposes two types of licensing penalties for DUI-related charges if a driver's THC intake or BAC level exceed their respective legal limits: administrative suspension or criminal-conviction suspension. Drivers who don't receive a conviction face a license suspension ranging from 90 days to two years, while those who do receive a conviction face a suspension that lasts for 90 days to four years. Whatever time an offender serves under the administrative suspensions is put toward the criminal-conviction sentence.
The court may require a driver to have an ignition interlock device installed as part of their sentence. A driver who faces a driver's license suspension can apply for an IID license, which allows them to drive to essential places like work or school during that period. The length of time a driver will need an IID license depends on the circumstances. The court may also require them to drive with the device installed for a certain period after the suspension ends.
Defining Minor in Possession
A minor in possession (MIP) or minor in consumption (MIC) is another offense underage drivers can face in Washington. It, too, has criminal consequences and can affect a minor's driving privileges. According to RCW Section 66.44.270, it is illegal for anyone to:
- Supply liquor to those under 21.
- Allow a minor to consume alcohol on any premises in the control of an adult.
- Allow a minor to possess or drink any amount of alcohol.
It is also illegal for a minor to show impairment from consuming alcohol or drugs in a public place or in a vehicle on a public roadway.
The Washington State Department of Licensing has its own definition of an MIP, classifying it as a person:
- From 13 to 17 years old who signs a diversion agreement or has an alcohol possession conviction.
- From 13 to 20 years old who signs a diversion agreement or has a drug possession conviction.
- From 13 to 17 years old who has a conviction of any kind involving firearms.
- Under 18 who pleads, or is found, guilty of illegally possessing a firearm while in a vehicle.
- Under 18 who commits a crime while in possession of a firearm in which a vehicle played a part.
Penalties for Minor in Possession Conviction
The penalties for an underage person facing an MIP conviction, a gross misdemeanor, are more severe than those of a minor DUI conviction. With this conviction comes a criminal penalty of a maximum $5,000 fine and 364 days in jail.
There is also an administrative penalty for a person convicted of MIP per the Washington State Department of Licensing. The department will mail a notice to the offender 45 days before their license suspension begins. The first suspension can last up to one year or until the offender's 17th birthday, and the second suspension can last up to two years or until their 18th birthday.
In both instances, the suspension will be in effect until whichever date comes last. If a driver has multiple violations, the penalties can run consecutively.
- Washington State Department of Licensing: DUI (Driving Under the Influence)
- Washington State Legislature: RCW Section 46.61.502: Driving Under the Influence
- NOLO: Washington's Underage Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Laws
- Washington State Legislature: RCW Section 66.44.270 Furnishing Liquor to Minors—Possession, Use—Penalties—Exhibition of Effects—Exceptions
- Washington State Department of Licensing: Minor in Possession
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.