Under age 21 DWI in Ithaca, New York (and surrounding counties)

In general, the DWI laws for somebody under the age of 21 are the same as for people who are over the legal drinking age.  However, if you’re under the legal drinking age, you will probably be facing much longer revocation/suspension of your driving privileges in New York (harsher civil penalties).

New York’s “ZERO TOLERANCE” Laws, VTL §1192-a / §1194-a

The “ZERO TOLERANCE” law states that no person under the age of 21 shall operate a motor vehicle with 0.02% BAC or more.  If you drink ANYTHING, and you drive, then you will be facing a significant civil penalty and loss of driving privileges.  This does not change the criminal part of the case, but it does significantly increase the penalty on the civil DMV part due to the offender’s young age. 

If you are under 21, and you drink and drive, you will lose your license whether you were actually impaired or not. The added penalty is civil, not criminal.

HOWEVER, if you are under 21, you CANNOT be charged with both a criminal drunk driving offense under VTL 1192 and also be charged with a civil Zero Tolerance law violation. They are mutually exclusive.  For practical purposes, if your BAC is at or below 0.05%-0.02% and you are under age 21, you will be notified of violating New York’s Zero Tolerance law, VTL §1192-a, and it will be resolved by the DMV (not the court).


Under New York State law, individuals who are at least sixteen years old but less than nineteen years old who are charged with a crime (misdemeanor or felony) may be eligible for a “youthful offender adjudication.” Section 720.20 of the Criminal Procedure Law sets forth the circumstances under which a court may make a finding that a individual is a youthful offender. For purposes of misdemeanor convictions, such as first time DWI offenders, CPL § 720.20 states: 

Upon conviction of an eligible youth, the court must order a PSI (pre-sentence investigation) of the defendant. After receipt of a written report of the investigation (by the probation department) and at the time of pronouncing sentence the court must determine whether or not the eligible youth is a youthful offender. Such determination shall be in accordance with the following criteria: 

Where the conviction is had in a local criminal court and the eligible youth had not prior to commencement of trial or entry of a plea of guilty been convicted of a crime or found a youthful offender, the court must find he is a youthful offender. 

CPL § 720.20(d) provides that when an individual is found to be a youthful offender, “ the court must direct that the conviction be deemed vacated and replaced by a youthful offender finding; and the court must sentence the defendant pursuant to section 60.02 of the penal law.” 

Section 60.02(1) of the Penal Law limits the maximum sentence that may be imposed upon an individual adjudicated a youthful offender who otherwise would have been convicted of a misdemeanor to “a definite or intermittent sentence of imprisonment with a term of no more than six months….” 

The requirement that eligible youth with no prior criminal convictions or youthful offender adjudications must receive youthful offender status when convicted of a misdemeanor poses an interesting dilemma when such youth are arrested for misdemeanor Driving While Intoxicated. Based on the specific circumstances surrounding the arrest, many of these youth are eligible to enter a plea of guilty to the lesser offense of Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol (VTL § 1192[1]), which is a traffic infraction, not a misdemeanor. 

Please note that youthful offender status only applies to criminal convictions, not to traffic infractions. As a result, it may be advisable in some cases to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge and receive youthful offender status rather than entering a plea to the lesser charge of Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol (VTL § 1192[1]). A person under 19 years of age should discuss this with his attorney. There are advantages and disadvantages of receiving youthful offender status versus pleading guilty to DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol). 

If you or your son/daughter/friend qualifies as a Youthful Offender and is charged with a crime in Ithaca, NY or surrounding counties, call us: 607-229-5184

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