Q:How is Virginia's underage DUI law different from its adult law?

A:It all comes down to blood-alcohol levels (BACs). The “regular” drunk-driving laws in Virginia apply to adults who are stopped by police and found to have a measured BAC of 0.08 percent or more, which corresponds to three or four drinks consumed within the previous hour. Extra penalties apply if the individual's BAC exceeds .20 percent (“super drunk”), if this is his second or third offense within five or ten years of his first conviction, or if he has a passenger under the age of 18 in his vehicle.

In the case of drivers under 21, there's much less grace, BAC-wise. Under Virginia's “zero tolerance” law, a high-school- or college-aged driver can be charged with DUI if he has a BAC of as little as 0.02 percent. Not only does a conviction on this charge count as a class-one misdemeanor—meaning it becomes part of your permanent criminal record—but it also subjects you to a fine of $500 and or 50 hours of community service, as well as a mandatory one-year suspension of your driver's license. Of course, it's common for an underage driver to have a BAC of well above 0.02 percent, even close to .20 percent, in which case the judge or district attorney will be more inclined to “throw the book” and seek the maximum possible penalty.

An arrest for juvenile DUI may be a youthful indiscretion. Unfortunately, it's an indiscretion that can follow you around for the rest of your life, making it difficult to find a job or obtain a loan. That's why, if you've been charged with “zero-tolerance” DUI, you should contact an experienced defense lawyer at Jarrell, Hicks & Waldman, PC right away.