By Emily Keener
In Georgia, drivers who are impaired by alcohol and/or drugs can be charged with driving under the influence in two different ways: DUI “per se” and DUI-less-safe, also called impairment DUI. (Read more about the difference between per se and impairment DUIs.) Drivers under the legal drinking age of 21 can face these charges, too, with some key differences.
For drivers over the age of 21, it’s illegal to drive or be in actual physical control of a moving vehicle anywhere in the state of Georgia with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of.08% or more within three hours of driving. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(a)(5) (2016).)
For drivers under 21, that threshold is much lower—it’s .02% or more within the same time period. Alcohol affects everyone differently, but certain individuals might exceed. 02% after just one beer, glass of wine, or shot of liquor. This low legal limit reflects the state’s hardline stance against underage DUIs. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(k)(1) (2016).)
What about underage drivers who refuse chemical testing—so there is no BAC measurement—or are impaired by only drugs? Those drivers might still face a DUI-less-safe charge: Georgia law prohibits driving while impaired to the extent that it is less safe for you to drive, regardless of age. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(a) (2016).)
As with adults, the penalties for underage drivers convicted of DUI vary based on several factors, including whether the minor has any prior DUI convictions.
A first-offense DUI is a misdemeanor. For a first offense, there is generally $300 to $1000 in fines, 24 hours to 12 months jail time, and a minimum of 20 hours of community service. Underage drivers convicted of a per se DUI are required to complete their community service within 60 days of sentencing. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c), (k)(2) (2016).)
A second DUI conviction within a ten-year period is a misdemeanor carrying $600 to $1000 in fines, 72 hours to 12 months jail time, and at least 30 days of community service. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c)(2) (2016).)
A third DUI conviction within a ten-year period is a “high and aggravated” misdemeanor leading to a sentence of $1000 to $5000 in fines, 15 days to 12 months in jail, and at least 30 days of community service. Being convicted of a high and aggravated misdemeanor means you’ll serve more time in custody and get less credit for good behavior; you’ll receive only four days of credit for each 30 days served. (Ga. Code Ann. § § 17-10-4(b), 40-6-391(c)(3) (2016).)
Generally, a fourth DUI conviction within a ten-year period is a high and aggravated misdemeanor. However, if all three prior offenses occurred on or after July 1, 2008, the fourth offense is a felony. Fourth-offense DUIs carry $1000 to $5000 in fines, 90 days to five years imprisonment, and at least 60 days of community service. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c)(4) (2016).)
If you’re an underage driver convicted of DUI, you can expect to lose your driver’s license for a minimum of six months with no work or school permit available. Suspensions for multiple offenders can last anywhere from 18 months to five years. The length of the suspension and the requirements for reinstatement vary based on your driving history and the offense for which you were suspended. An experienced criminal law attorney can help you understand the license ramifications of your particular case. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-57.1 (2016).)
All DUI offenders—underage drivers, adults, first time and multiple offenders—are required to complete a “DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program,” and a clinical evaluation for alcohol and drug dependency. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c) (2016).)
JAIL TIME FOR UNDERAGE DUI OFFENDERS
Georgia law provides some special sentencing treatment for underage DUI offenders. If the judge allows it, the first-time underage DUI offender can serve any required jail time on the weekends or during non-working hours. And underage first offenders are housed separately from all other inmates. (Ga. Code Ann. § 17-10-3.1 (2016).)
If you’re convicted of DUI, how much time will you actually spend in jail? Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.
If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.
Getting a DUI conviction at any age can have serious consequences that might follow you for years. If you’ve been arrested for DUI, talk to an experienced attorney about your case and the penalties you might face.