Defending drunk and impaired driving cases for clients under the age of
21 calls for a creative approach—one that accounts both for the
enhanced penalties occasioned by such cases and concerns for a criminal
record. For drivers under 21 convicted of DWI, the standard is different
for prosecutors to prove their case, New Hampshire law imposes enhanced
court sentences and there are additional administrative hurdles at the
Department of Safety in order to secure the return of a privilege to drive.
Furthermore, prosecutors and police officers often approach these cases
in a more rigid manner than a DWI for a driver who is 21 years of age
or older, concerned for the illegal use of alcohol in addition to the
allegation of impaired driving. Understanding these legal and practical
considerations is essential in defending our cases.
NH DWI defense attorneys travel statewide and have principal offices in Dover, Concord and Manchester
as well as satellite offices in Nashua and Portsmouth. Our experience
and geographic reach regularly calls on us to defend DWI cases on behalf
of younger drivers throughout New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts,
including those cases arising out of college towns in Keene, Durham, Plymouth,
Concord, Manchester, Goffstown, Henniker, Nashua and New London.
A first offense DWI is a crime even for a driver under 21, resulting in
a Class B Misdemeanor conviction. Understanding the nuances of New Hampshire’s
DWI laws is critical when defending our younger clients. One year after
conviction, the New Hampshire’s DWI law permits a reduction from
a Misdemeanor to a Violation, which converts a conviction to a non-criminal
event. We pride ourselves on avoiding convictions for our clients, but
when convictions occur, we take every step possible to mitigate their
impact, including filing motions to reduce criminal offenses to violations
when the law permits. This step is particularly important for our younger
clients as they fill out applications for college and employment as well
as the myriad of other requests for information about criminal convictions.
The Reduced Standards for Underage DWI
Typically in New Hampshire, a test result showing that a driver had an
alcohol concentration of 0.08 is considered prima facie evidence that
he or she is under the influence of alcohol. However, this standard is
dramatically reduced in the case of an underage driver where the standard
is just 0.02. This reduced standard has a dramatic impact on the prosecution
of underage driving while intoxicated cases, often permitting mild cases
to give rise to criminal consequences with a DWI conviction. For our clients
of tender years, minimizing criminal consequences is a goal—we regularly
blend into negotiations thoughts about early intervention, counseling
as well as concerns for the facts of a case itself to urge the State to
back off its demands for a criminal conviction.
The Enhanced Penalties for Underage DWI
While the alcohol standard is dramatically lower to support a conviction
for underage DWI, the penalties are far greater. A conviction for a first
offense driving while intoxicated charge where the defendant is under
the age of 21 calls for a full 1-year license loss with no opportunity
for early reduction, completion of an impaired driver intervention program
(IDIP), as well as any after care obligations and a fine of $500 plus
Penalty Assessment of 24%. The length of this license loss is far greater
than a typical DWI conviction for a driver over 21 where the minimum license
loss is just 9 months and that license loss may be reduced to as little
as 90 days with enrollment in the IDIP program promptly following sentencing.
In addition to this court-imposed license loss, law enforcement also initiate
the Administrative License Suspension (ALS) process for underage DWI cases
where there is an alcohol concentration exceeding a 0.02 or where the
Defendant refused to take a breath or a blood test. In either case, the
Department of Safety imposes a 6 month administrative suspension. In cases
where the Defendant agreed to submit to a breath or a blood test, this
6 month administrative suspension runs concurrently, or at the same time,
as the court imposed license loss. However, in cases where an underage
Defendant refused the requested breath or blood test, this 6 month administrative
license suspension runs consecutive to, or on top of, any court imposed
Through thoughtful negotiation, our attorneys routinely convince police
officers and prosecutors to withdraw the administrative suspension in
consideration for fair results in court.
On other occasions and where the case appears as if it is proceeding to
trial, our DWI lawyers take full advantage of any administrative hearing,
using it as an opportunity to question the arresting officer or trooper
under oath and, by so doing, improve our ability to prepare a case for trial.
Administrative Hurdles to Reinstating Operating Privileges After an Underage
Our DWI lawyers regularly see clients and attorneys alike misunderstand
the administrative consequences which often flow from underage DWI convictions.
Even after court and administrative license losses expire, the New Hampshire
Department of Safety imposes additional hurdles prior to the restoration
of driving privileges for certain younger drivers.
Specifically, New Hampshire issues a “youth operator’s license”
to persons 16 years of age or older and under the age of 21. When the
holder of a youth operator’s license is convicted of DWI, he or
she is not eligible for re-issuance of a license prior to the age of 21
without going through another administrative hearing at the Department
of Safety. The question at such a hearing is whether or not the driver
will operate in a safe manner if the license is issued. Quite broadly,
the law states that the Department of Safety may place restrictions on
any license issued under these circumstances if those restrictions are
in the best interest of public safety.
For our younger clients, our DWI team believes that our representation
does not end at the close of a case in court. Rather, we believe firmly
that success in a case only comes when we have addressed the collateral
issues that may arise following a conviction. For drivers under 21 seeking
the return of driving privileges after a DWI conviction, this means guiding
our clients through the necessary steps to reinstate driving privileges,
including, in some circumstances, appearing with our clients at administrative
hearings for the purpose of seeking the return of driving privileges.