Under, ARS 4-244(34), the state of Arizona imposes a zero-tolerance policy towards underage drinking and driving. This statute makes it a crime for people under 21 years of age to drive, or be in physical control of a motor vehicle, while there is any detectable alcohol in their body. An underage DUI is sometimes referred to as a “baby DUI.” A violation of the law is a misdemeanor offense (as opposed to a felony) punishable by up to six months in jail.
- a 17-year-old driving a car after drinking a beer.
- a 20-year-old sitting in the driver’s seat of a running car after drinking alcohol.
- an 18-year-old getting behind the wheel after having just a sip of a cocktail.
People accused of a crime under this statute can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that:
- they were over 21 years of age at the time of the alleged crime,
- they were not in physical control of a vehicle, and/or
- the police stopped them without probable cause.
A violation of ARS 4-244(34) is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to 180 days, and/or
- a fine of at least $500.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “underage DUI”?
Under ARS 4-244(34), it is a crime for an underage driver (that is, a driver under the age of 21) to drink any alcohol and then either:
- drive a motor vehicle, or
- be in actual physical control of a vehicle.1
Per Arizona law, whether a minor is in “actual physical control of a vehicle” is a question of fact. A judge or jury will decide the issue by analyzing all of the facts of a case.
Further, note that underage DUI charges are different from regular DUI charges because minors can face criminal charges under the law by having any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. A minor can receive an Arizona DUI regardless of whether his/her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .08% or higher, or that the driver was impaired or under the influence of alcohol in any way.
2. Are there defenses to ARS 4-244(34)?
Arizona DUI defense attorneys draw upon several legal strategies to help minors contest charges brought under this statute. A few include DUI lawyers showing that:
- a defendant was not a minor at the time of an arrest.
- an accused was not in physical control of a vehicle.
- the police stopped an accused without probable cause.
2.1 No minor
People are only guilty of a crime under this law if they were under the age of 21 when they were stopped by police or arrested. A defense, then, is for an accused to show that he/she was 21 years of age or older at the time of the alleged offense.
2.2 No physical control
Recall that minors can face charges under this law even when they were not driving a car, provided though that they were in physical control of the vehicle (for example, sitting in a car with the keys in the ignition). But the issue of “physical control” is a question for a judge or jury to decide by examining all of the facts of a case. A defendant, therefore, can try to avoid a DUI conviction by showing that he/she did not have control of a vehicle.
2.3 No probable cause
This is a common defense raised under Arizona’s DUI laws. It is unlawful for law enforcement to stop or arrest a person without probable cause that they committed some illegal act, be it something that is worthy of a traffic ticket or a criminal charge. This means it is always a defense for defendants to show that the police stopped them without probable cause.
3. What are the penalties?
Underage drinking and driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:
- up to 180 in jail time, and/or
- a fine of at least $500 (which could grow after fees and surcharges).2
In addition, convicted minors can face a mandatory two-year driver’s license suspension.3
Further, a judge has the discretion to impose additional penalties in these cases. Some of these include:
- alcohol classes,
- community service,
- impact panels, and
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to underage DUI. These are:
- furnishing alcohol to a minor – ARS 4-241,
- minor in possession of alcohol – ARS 4-244(9), and
- DUI – ARS 28-1381A1.
4.1 Furnishing alcohol to a minor – ARS 4-241
Under ARS 4-241, furnishing alcohol to a minor is the crime where a bar, liquor store, or similar business furnishes or sells alcoholic beverages to a minor.
Violations of this law often involve harsher penalties than violations of ARS 4-244(34). For example, a party could receive up to six months in jail time for selling alcohol to a minor.
4.2 Minor in possession of alcohol – ARS 4-244(9)
Per ARS 4-244(9), minor in possession is the crime where minors buy, receive, possess, or consume an alcoholic beverage.
Note that if a minor possesses alcohol in violation of this law, drinks it, and then drives a car, the person is technically guilty of both:
- possessing alcohol, under ARS 2-244(9), and
- underage 21, under ARS 4-244(34).
4.3 DUI – ARS 28-1381A1
Under ARS 28-1381A1, driving under the influence (or DUI/DWI) is the offense where someone drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of:
- a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance, or
- any combination of liquor, drugs, or vapor.
As with people that violate ARS 4-244(34), people in violation of this statute may face a driver’s license suspension. In addition, a judge may require an offender to install an ignition interlock device in his/her motor vehicle.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law offices/law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our legal team provides both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our attorneys also represent people throughout Arizona, including those in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa.
- ARS 4-244(34).
- ARS 4-246.
- See same.