Ohio, like every other state, makes it illegal for anyone younger than 21 to purchase alcohol. Consuming and possessing alcohol in public before reaching the age of 21 are also criminal offenses.
It only makes sense, then, that police, prosecutors, and judges in Ohio take charges of operating a vehicle after underage alcohol consumption very seriously. A first-time conviction for driving under the influence while below the legal drinking age can bring all of the following penalties:
Underage Drinking and Driving Charges in Ohio
- A jail sentence of up to 30 days,
- A fine of as much as $250,
- A driver’s license or learner’s permit suspension that lasts for at least 90 days and may extend to 2 years, and
- Required use of an ignition interlock if driving privileges get reinstated.
Defenses Against an Underage DUI Charges
Hiring an experienced Columbus Ohio DUI defense attorney can help a teenager or young adult avoid such a severe sentence. While each case presents its own facts, three things that most lawyers should focus on are reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle, probable cause to arrest, and blood alcohol concentration tests.
A police officer cannot randomly pull over young drivers and accuse them of being intoxicated unless the officer has a valid reason for doing so. Even at a DUI checkpoint where any driver can be stopped and asked to hand over their license, registration, and proof of insurance, an officer must have a reason to suspect that a driver who is younger than 21 may have been drinking before trying to collect more evidence.
A Columbus, Ohio underage DUI attorney will demand answers to questions like:
- Did the officer observe a traffic violation or unsafe driving?
- After the driver stopped, did the officer see or smell alcohol?
- Did the officer hear the driver slur words while speaking or stagger when getting out of the car?
- How did the driver perform while doing field sobriety tests?
- Does body cam or dash cam video of the traffic stop or checkpoint interaction exist?
Another set of questions and challenges can be raised regarding BAC testing procedures and results. Ohio sets the legal BAC limit for drivers younger than 21 at 0.02. This very low result will not cause confusion or loss of physical coordination for most people, but it can be reached by drinking a single 12-ounce beer over the course of an hour. It can also be reached by taking some over-the-counter cough and cold medications.
Any BAC evidence presented to try to secure a conviction must have been collected while following a strict protocol that includes scripted phrases regarding the driver’s rights. In addition, the tests must have been performed precisely to accurately measure a BAC so low. If the blood samples were not handled, transported, and stored correctly, the results can be ruled invalid.
You can learn more about defenses against drunk driving charges by calling an DUI attorney in Columbus, Ohio, offices of The Maher Law Firm.