How to Help Your Teen Charged with DUI

Ryan Robertson
By: Ryan Robertson
PublishedDec 7, 2023
6 minute read

A phone call from the police station is never good. It’s especially alarming when you’re a parent to a teen or young adult who’s just started driving. You’re relieved when the worst hasn’t happened. Still, it’s troubling having to bail your son or daughter out of jail for drinking and driving. You want to lay down the law with your teen — but now the actual criminal justice system is in play.  How can you help your teen after they’re charged with Underage Drinking and Driving or Driving Under the Influence?

You’re probably exasperated with your teenage son or daughter at the moment. But understand: A conviction for UDD, DWAI, or DUI could disrupt your teen’s educational and career prospects. Act decisively to protect their future.

Taking Aim at Younger Drivers Who Drink 

Careless driving by teens and young adults has always been a concern. The decades-long dilemma is exacerbated even more by the ubiquity of smartphones. Recent CDC surveys found that 51 percent of Colorado teens text while driving. This is exacerbated by drinking.  Though they’re not old enough to legally consume alcohol, many underage drivers do — and then they drive.

Drivers under the age of 21 cause a significant number of drunk driving fatalities. To curb this trend, Colorado created a new tier of penalties specifically for them.

Underage Drinking and Driving in Colorado 

Drivers under the age of 21 with a blood alcohol concentration of .02 to .05 commit a Class A traffic infraction. Underage drinking and driving, more colloquially known as ‘baby DUI’ on a first offense, is punishable by:

  • a 3-month revocation of the youth’s driver’s license
  • up to 24 hours of useful public service,
  • $100 in fines plus court costs,
  • possible mandatory alcohol/drug education and treatment, and
  • 4 points added to their driving record.

Colorado Revised Statutes 42-4-1301 (2) (d)

In addition to the punishments listed, the underage driver may be required to pay for other costs:

  • a $120 fee as part of their public service
  • a fee covering the cost of a mandatory alcohol or drug evaluation at the end of the license revocation period
Second and Subsequent Offenses 

A second UDD offense with a BAC between .02 and .05 ratchets up to a Class 2 traffic misdemeanor. Punishments also level up:

  • 10 to 90 days in jail and/or
  • up to $300 in fines plus court costs, and
  • a 6-month driver’s license revocation

As with a first offense, second and subsequent UDD convictions also bring:

  • mandatory alcohol/drug education and treatment program,
  • 4 points on the driving record,
  • up to 24 hours of useful public service, plus the $120 fee, and
  • mandatory alcohol/drug evaluation at the end of the revocation period, paid for by the defendant

A third UDD offense increases the duration of license revocation from 6 months to a full year.

Fighting a License Revocation 

Underage drivers can challenge their license revocation at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) hearing. However, to prevent revocation, they must prevail in both the DMV hearing and the separate criminal case. A loss in either will still result in revocation.

DMV hearings are typically tougher to win than criminal trials due to lower standards for both the introduction of evidence and the burden of proof for the state to prevail. Nevertheless, they can be helpful practice for pending criminal proceedings.

Probationary License for First-Timers 

First-time UDD offenders may apply for a probationary license after serving 30 days of their three-month suspension. This license requires an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicle. An IID is a breathalyzer wired to the car’s ignition. It requires a BAC reading below .017 to start the car. The device may be removed after four months of compliant readings.


Adults face drinking and driving charges when their blood alcohol levels reach .05 and higher. If your teen or underage college student consumes enough alcohol to bring their BAC to those levels, they’ll be prosecuted as adults. And the penalties mentioned above become more severe.

A BAC reading of .05 to .08 brings a DWAI — driving while ability impaired — charge.

A BAC of .08 and higher leads to a full-blown DUI — driving under the influence — charge.

Generally, punishments for a first-time DWAI or DUI range from:

  • 2 days to 1 year in jail,
  • $200 to $1000 in fines, plus court costs,
  • 24 to 96 hours of community service,
  • Up to 9 months driver’s license suspension,
  • Up to 2 years of probation,
  • 8 points added to the driving record, and
  • required usage of an ignition interlock device (IID) to start their car once driving privileges are restored

These are the surface-level basics when it comes to DUI and DWAI. I have published a number of extensive articles on DUIs, and what to expect during the DUI criminal justice process.

Each article may contain information relevant to your teen’s DUI or DWAI case.

Parents Can Be Held Liable

Parents can face a civil lawsuit if their underage driver causes injury or property damage in an accident. Three separate legal theories make this civil action possible.

  1. Negligent Entrustment applies if parents were aware of their teen’s propensity for risky behavior. For example: Seventeen-year-old Kyle had previous speeding tickets, but he was still allowed to drive before causing a wreck.
  2. Vicarious Liability becomes a factor when a teen causes injury or property damage in an accident. Colorado has a “family car doctrine” allowing parents to be sued for lending their car to a teenager who directly caused an accident.
  3. Social Hosting liability arises if a host knowingly lets a minor drink before causing an accident. However, proving it, as established by Colorado’s Supreme Court in Przekurat v. Torres (2018), requires showing the host had actual knowledge the guest was underage.

Two of these legal theories don’t even mention underage drinking. They could still apply if the teen’s consuming alcohol before driving was a factor in the accident.

Long-Term Consequences of UDD, DWAI, and DUI 

A DUI conviction will restrict your son or daughter’s participation in school activities. It can also hamper future college and job prospects. Sometimes, these opportunities are inextricably linked. For example: A teen risks losing an athletic scholarship after a drinking-and-driving conviction leads to suspension from their high school team.

Such a suspension will limit the teen’s participation in their sport or activity. It also calls into question their judgment, a factor for acceptance into better schools.

More College Admission Consequences 

Many higher-learning institutions conduct background checks that affect acceptance and housing decisions. A drinking-and-driving record could restrict access to financial aid, with the federal government withholding grants and loans. Additionally, certain career paths requiring background checks may become more difficult to navigate.

Insurance Consequences 

Parents may find their own insurance policies canceled if their teen is convicted of DUI. Also, individuals with DUIs often face difficulty securing affordable insurance. Companies may increase premiums or deny coverage based on poor driving records.

Getting a UDD Record Sealed 

Young people make mistakes. Colorado law recognizes that they shouldn’t be bound to certain mistakes for the rest of their lives. Therefore, it is possible to “bury” an underage drinking and driving conviction after the individual turns 21.

However, once reaching age 21, the young driver must be able to show that:

  • they had no additional UDD convictions,
  • their case is closed and not currently active, and
  • they never held a commercial driver’s license, nor were driving a commercial vehicle when committing the offense.

Young drivers eligible under those criteria can file a JDF 305 to erase their UDD convictions at no cost.

DWAI and DUI Convictions Stay Forever 

Colorado considers DWAI and DUI convictions too serious to seal or expunge. It does not matter how young the driver was when committing the offense. While a subsequent long record of reformed behavior can still benefit the individual, these convictions never go away.

This is all the more reason to avoid such a conviction if possible.

Defending Against UDD, DWAI, or DUI Charges

The best advice we can give: Hire an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney. This is your best move when you or your teen/underage driver is confronted with these charges. Calling an attorney should be your first move.

You can go with a court-appointed public defender if your income qualifies you for legal help. There certainly are some talented public defenders practicing in Colorado. However, your lawyer will be one that the Office of the Public Defender appoints, not the one you choose.

Keep in mind, however, that a busy public defender may be unable to devote sufficient attention to your teenager’s case. My advice is, if you can find any way to hire a private defense attorney, do it.

Effective Defense Strategies 

Adults have one defense against drinking-and-driving charges that underage drivers do not. They can assert they were unimpaired despite a minor presence of alcohol. Colorado’s zero-tolerance policy against underage drinking and driving make it a strict liability offense. The presence of any alcohol in their system is prohibited.

That said, here are some arguments that an experienced attorney can leverage against UDD, DWAI, and DUI charges:

  1. No reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. Police must have a reason to stop a driver in the first place. This could be for a traffic infraction, an expired license plate, a malfunctioning headlight or tail-light, or signs of erratic driving. Police cannot stop someone wholly on a hunch.
  2. No basis for suspecting alcohol consumption: Underage drivers have the same Fourth Amendment rights as adults. Police cannot arrest and test individuals without reasonable suspicion of UDD or DUI.
  3. Faulty or improperly administered BAC test: Post-arrest chemical tests must adhere to stringent high standards to be admissible in court. If results prove inconsistent or unreliable, the charges can be dismissed. If tests are shown to have been administered incorrectly, charges will be dismissed.
Getting Charges Reduced 

If the prosecution’s case isn’t strong, they may reduce DUI charges to DWAI or careless or reckless driving. First-time UDD charges are less severe than careless/reckless driving, however. It would make more sense to get UDD dismissed without solid evidence.

If charged with more serious DWAI or DUI, your attorney might secure a deferred sentence, where adhering to specific conditions could lead to less severe penalties.

More information about defending against such charges can be found in our main DUI legal guide.

Don’t Let Your Teen Face These Charges Alone 

Robinson & Henry’s criminal defense team can help mitigate your teenager’s DUI-related charges and protect their future. Contact us at 303-688-0944 for a case review.

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