Zero Tolerance Penalties for Underage DUI

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As much as states are beginning to crack down hard on DUI for licensed motorists, the DUI penalties enforced on drivers who are under the legal drinking age of 21 make other new first-time offender penalties look gracious by comparison.

All states currently have a zero-tolerance law for motorists driving under the influence of alcohol who are under the legal age of 21, meaning that if any amount of alcohol is detected in their blood alcohol content (BAC), then their driver's license will be suspended. And that's often just the beginning of the litany of charges that a youth accused of DUI will face.

Take the case of a 16-year-old driver in Connecticut who was arrested over the second weekend in February. After a reckless driving spree in which the young man reportedly hit two houses and rammed a police car, he will now face a DUI charge in addition to a whopping 18 other charges.

According to news reports in the Hartford Courant, the incident started when the young man took a 1988 Ford Thunderbird out on the town without its owner's permission. Around 1:30 AM, the young man drove the car into the first of the houses. After striking the house, he took back to the road, driving in the wrong lane.

A police car with its lights on, responding to the crash, was driving in the proper lane when the young man struck the cruiser head-on. The car then backed up and fled, with the police car in pursuit. While being chased, the young man hit another house in the neighborhood. A male passenger left the car, shortly followed by the driver.

The most serious charges of those added to the DUI charge involved the ramming of the police car, which was described in the news reports as "intentional." The young man will face criminal attempt to commit second-degree assault, criminal attempt to commit assault on a police officer and reckless endangerment as well as several other charges related to property damage. His bail was set at $80,000.

According to the Indianapolis Star, another teenager from southern Indiana has been released after serving nine months in prison for a fatal DUI crash that took place in October 2006, resulting in the death of a high school classmate. While driving with a BAC of 0.16-as later reported by police at the scene-which is twice the legal limit of 0.08 for an adult, even, the teen swerved across the center line into oncoming traffic and hit a car, killing a 16-year-old classmate and injuring another passenger in the car.

The teen was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison after pleading guilty last spring to causing death with a motor vehicle while DUI. But now, she has been released early due to good behavior. She received her GED certificate and high school diploma while in prison, earning part of the good behavior time off with educational credits.

According to news reports, some, including the parents of the 16-year-old boy killed in the fatal DUI crash, are worried that she did not serve enough of her sentence. The nine months is less than half of the sentence given, though she will remain on parole for an additional 18 months.

The Indianapolis Star, reports that, as a result, the Indiana state legislature is considering a bill that would reinterpret how education credits may be given, including a provision that 85% of the sentence must be served, a provision that, if in force now, would have forced the teen to remain in prison for more than two full years.

Though minors are often given lenience in sentencing because of their age, it's clear that prosecutors and state legislators are serious about the zero-tolerance rules in effect. Neither of these underage drinkers and drivers will be behind the wheel until a long time in the future, when, hopefully, they will have learned responsibility for their actions.

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