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Underage DUI in North Carolina

The North Carolina legislature has codified a zero tolerance law at NC Gen. Stat. § 20-138.3.  Although some states “zero tolerance” laws allow underage drivers to have a minimal amount of alcohol in their system, North Carolina imposes a strict zero tolerance law.  Underage drivers are not allowed to drive at any time they have a BAC level above 0.00%.  It is also unlawful for underage persons to drive with any controlled substance in his or her system, unless the controlled substance was “lawfully obtained and taken in therapeutically appropriate amounts.”  This allows underage persons to lawfully drive while on prescription medication, as long as they have only ingested the prescribed dosage.  Because this is an alcohol related offense, it is an offense subject to North Carolina implied consent laws.

To convict a driver of this offense, the prosecutor is required to prove that the person was driving the vehicle was doing so with a controlled substance or alcohol in his or her system.  Generally, it will be difficult for an officer to notice that a driver is under the influence of a controlled substance and it is much more likely that the officer will test a driver for the presence of alcohol.  Although the zero tolerance statute specifically states that the odor of alcohol is insufficient prove of guilt, it allows an officer to administer an alcohol screening test to determine if alcohol is present.  If the alcohol refuses to submit to the test(s), odor may be used to convict the driver of the offense.

A violation of the zero tolerance law is a Class 2 Misdemeanor.  Being convicted of the zero tolerance law does not preclude a driver from also being convicted of a DUI.  If the driver is convicted of both, the aggregate punishment (punishment for both offenses) is not allowed to exceed the maximum allowable punishment for the DUI charge.

Finally, if an underage person has their license revoked solely for a violation of the zero tolerance law, they may be able to apply for a limited driving privilege.  The driver must be at least 18 years of age and have had no prior zero tolerance violations.  The driver must meet all the requirements of the limited driving privilege statute (§ 20-179.3), and it is solely in the judge’s discretion as to whether the limited privilege will be granted.  If the driver has also been convicted of a DUI, either prior to or in conjunction with a zero tolerance violation, the driver may still be eligible to receive a limited driving privilege.


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