Texas “Under 21” Alcohol Laws
Effective September 1, 1997, Senate Bill No. 35 went into effect and deals with various alcohol violations under the Alcoholic Beverage Code and the Penal Code in regards to ”persons under 21 years of age.” The offenses include:
- Purchase of Alcohol by a Minor
- Attempt to Purchase Alcohol by a Minor
- Consumption of Alcohol by a Minor
- Possession of Alcohol by a Minor
- Misrepresentation of Age by a Minor
- Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol by a Minor
- Public Intoxication
Effective September 1, 1997, the fine becomes $0 to $500, in line with the Penal Code Class C Misdemeanor offenses. Additionally, violators will be required to perform community service, attend alcohol education classes, and license suspension is added as a sanction, automatic upon conviction.
Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol by a Minor
Senate Bill No. 35 created a new offense, Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol by a Minor (DUIABM), Alcoholic Beverage Code Sec. 106.041. This offense applies to persons ”under 21″ who operate a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. This is the essential “zero tolerance” aspect of the bill.
The new DUIABM offense is considered separate and distinct from the offense of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Legislative intent is that DUIABM should not be considered a lesser included offense of DWI. DWI is a Class B misdemeanor; DUIABM is a Class C misdemeanor. A minor with any detectable amount of alcohol is not necessarily considered intoxicated. If a minor is at or above the legal limit, 0.10 BAC, or if a minor is sufficiently impaired to be considered intoxicated while driving, then the minor will be charged with DWI.
A full custodial offense is not required for a DUIABM offense but is permitted, based on the officer’s discretion. Since a full custodial arrest is not required in all cases, the bill also does not require a breath alcohol test be run in every instance. Two distinct methods of enforcement can be used:
For the less serious cases, a ticket procedure with some method of roadside testing or simply officer observation. If an arrest is not effected, then the officer should proceed with whatever evidence is available; and for the more serious cases, a full-blown DWI arrest procedure, with breath or blood test requested. If a suspect is arrested, then clearly an attempt to obtain a breath alcohol test should be made.