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What happens if you get a DWI when you’re under 21

Being arrested can feel like the end of the world. Suddenly, you have gone from a being a good student with an untarnished record to being handcuffed and brought to jail. Although North Carolina has some of the toughest DWI laws in the country, getting arrested does not have to ruin your future.

Understanding the law

For people under the age of 21, North Carolina has a zero-tolerance policy for drunk driving. That means consuming any amount of alcohol and driving can lead to a DWI conviction. Your blood alcohol does not need to be over the legal limit. Even if an officer smells alcohol or observes impaired behavior, you can be charged with DWI. Impaired behavior can include swerving in traffic, failing a sobriety test or slurred speech.

License revocation

If you are under 21 and charged with DWI, you automatically lose your license for 30 days. When you are pulled over, if you refuse to take a breathalyzer test, you may also lose your license for up to a year. This is due to North Carolina’s implied consent law, which requires anyone asked to take a breath test to do so. Again, as a minor, even observed impaired behavior is enough to garner a DWI conviction.

Potential Punishments

If you are found guilty of underage DWI, it is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The conviction could mean 1-30 days of jail time, a fine of up to $1,000 and possible loss of your license for one year. During that year span, anyone who is over 18 may be able get limited driving privileges, assuming he or she has no prior convictions.

Other than fines and jail time, a misdemeanor conviction can follow you for a long time. Most job applications ask about criminal convictions, and you will need to report being convicted of a misdemeanor. It could certainly hurt your job prospects. You may also face consequences from the university you attend.

However, an arrest does not have to end in a conviction. If you are underage and were arrested for DWI, you may want to contact a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can examine your case and may be able to plead you down to a lesser charge or even get you probation. He or she might be able to have the arrest expunged from your record, so it does not show up on future background checks. Remember, one mistake does not need to ruin your future.

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