“Minor Adults” Pose a Challenge to Texas’ Drunk Driving System
January 10th, 2011 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense
Texas has a special category for drunk drivers that aren’t actually yet legal drinkers: “minor adults.” If arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI), when between ages 17 to 20, minor adults are treated exactly like adults. Unlike juveniles, they can be required to take blood alcohol tests (refusal to do so often results in automatic license suspension). Unlike juveniles, they can go to jail. Unlike juveniles, such offenses remain on their records forever.
According to the Dallas Morning News, experts believe that minor adults are a challenge for the criminal justice system, as they tend to binge drink and are more likely to re-offend than adults arrested for drunk driving. And there is one major difference between minor adults and adults: minor adults often take jail time over probation with treatment, so the criminal justice system is challenged on how to rehabilitate underage drunk drivers.
Why Do Minor Adults Party Harder?
Minor adults only make up about six percent of all Texas drivers, yet they account for 12 percent of all alcohol-related fatalities in the state.
Young adults have a tendency to binge drink. According to Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation program director James Fell, about two-thirds of 16- to 20-year-olds are binge drinkers. “They only drink to get drunk. They drink – males – five or more drinks in two hours, for females four or more drinks within two hours. They drink to get smashed,” he noted.
While not every minor adult arrested for DWI is an alcoholic, many exhibit alcoholic tendencies so treatment at a young age could help curb future problems. The problem is getting them to plead to probation with treatment, which usually requires a three-month commitment, rather than choosing jail time, which often only lasts 30 days. According to the Dallas Morning News, some minor adults choose jail time because they know they may not be able to successfully complete probation – and violations for not remaining sober are usually harsher in the long run.
But treatment – treatment that they won’t receive in jail – could help minor adults from re-offending. And the subsequent offender rate is high.
Why Do Minor Adults Repeatedly Drink and Drive?
Almost 30 percent of 17- to 20-year-olds arrested for DWI in Dallas County from 1999 to 2009 were arrested for repeat drunk driving, reports the Dallas Morning News. For some repeat offenders, the second offense is only a few months after the first.
One defense attorney said, “The young kids I get that have multiple DWIs usually get them very close together. I haven’t been able to figure it out. I don’t know if it’s kind of a mental thing, ‘God, I’m really a failure, what’s going to stop me?’ Or if it really is an addiction, and they just can’t stop.”
Fell pointed that the younger the offender is, the more likely he is to reoffend.
While probation may not be for everyone – some people simply can’t afford to take time off of work to complete community service – it definitely could be helpful for many young offenders. The question is: how to get minor adults to accept probation and get the rehabilitation treatment that they deserve?