Tennessee law provides the courts some room for leniency when offering decisions on underage drunk driving charges. There are, however, certain lasting consequences associated with a guilty verdict in these cases.
The maximum penalties for minors found to be driving while intoxicated include a fine, one year of license suspension and court-determined community service. Furthermore, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security outlines two possible categories of underage offenders:
- Minors in terms of the law
- Those too young to legally consume alcohol
Individuals in each of these categories face identical maximum penalties, with one important distinction between the two. Offenders below the age of 18 may be found guilty of a delinquent act, whereas those aged 18 to 21 years old could be guilty of a misdemeanor. It also bears mentioning that an underage OWI conviction might have repercussions later in life, especially if the offender stands accused of operating under the influence again within the five years following their underage conviction.
Regardless of this possible impact, it is far from uncommon for cases involving underage DUI to reach the litigation process. The State of Tennessee Annual Juvenile Court Statistical Report from 2014 lists 193 referrals for DUI during the year. This means that minors came before the court for intoxicated driving charges three or four times a week, on average.
Although the penalties allowed under the Tennessee code regarding operating under the influence are potentially less severe for minors than they are for adults, the sheer number of cases referred to the juvenile court system suggests that the state vigorously prosecutes offenders. This proclivity towards enforcement and punishment makes any allegation of underage DUI a potentially serious matter in terms of both immediate and future consequences.