The GI Joe cartoon I watched as a kid always ended with the phrase “And knowing is half the battle.”  When I first began practicing law in 2006, I figured that after a few years, I would know enough to get by.  I get by just fine, but I am astounded by how much I learn every week.

This communication aims to inform its recipients of some law or procedure I’ve recently learned, and remind its writer how much is still out there to wrap my head around.

If “knowing is half the battle” as the show said, I figure after almost 9 years, I’m about 25% of the way to half-way there.

Underage DWI in our state can be proven against a defendant by a showing that the offender is under 21 and his/her Blood Alcohol Concentration is over a .02%   (A .08% BAC is considered sufficient impairment to prove DWI against a defendant driver in Louisiana.)  That same under-21 driver, however, can be charged under the regular DWI statute (La. R.S. 14:98) if his/her BAC is in violation of its provisions (i.e., if BAC > .08%).

Louisiana’s DWI laws changed on January 1st, 2015.  Among the changes is the slightly tougher penalty for the first offense of Underage Driving Under the Influence.

In short, judges can now impose jail sentences for first offense Underage DWI.  In the absence of accidents and injuries, DWI bonds are set low and most defendants can bond out before serving more than a few days.  If under this circumstance a defendant is later convicted of the offense, he or she will be given a sentence which will likely be suspended (in which case the defendant will be put on probation).

The Court will order the defendant to satisfy conditions (fines, court costs, classes, and community service) in order to satisfy the terms of the probation.  Failure to satisfy the conditions set forth in the new statute could result in the defendant’s probation being revoked, and the defendant then being required to serve the sentence originally imposed by the court.

Last year, La. R.S. 14:98.1 provided that on a first conviction, the offender shall be fined not less than $100 nor more than $250, and participate in a court-approved substance abuse and driver improvement program.  The Court was not authorized to impose a jail sentence to “hang over the head” of the defendant to ensure satisfaction of the conditions.

Effective January 1st of this year, Underage Driving Under the Influence (now found in La. R.S. 14:98.6) carries the same minimum and maximum fine, but now requires the court to impose a jail sentence of ten days to three months.  The statute allows the court, in its discretion, to suspend the sentence and impose a probationary period during which the offender is required to serve 32 hours of community service (at least half of which must be spent picking up litter) and participate in a substance abuse and driver improvement program.

Here’s the new law:

§98.6.  Underage operating while intoxicated

A.  The crime of underage operating a vehicle while intoxicated is the operating of any motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, vessel, or other means of conveyance when the operator’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.02 percent or more by weight based on grams of alcohol per one hundred cubic centimeters of blood, if the operator is under the age of twenty-one.
B.  Any underage person whose blood alcohol concentration is found to be in violation of R.S. 14:98(A)(1)(b) shall be charged under the provisions of that Subparagraph rather than under this Section.
C.(1)  On a first conviction, the offender shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two hundred fifty dollars, and imprisoned for not less than ten days nor more than three months.  Imposition or execution of sentence shall not be suspended unless the offender is placed on probation with the minimum conditions that he:
(a)  Perform thirty-two hours of court-approved community service activities, at least half of which shall consist of participation in a litter abatement or collection program.
(b)  Participate in a court-approved substance abuse and driver improvement program.
(2)  On a second or subsequent conviction, regardless of whether the second offense occurred before or after the first conviction, the offender shall be fined not less than two hundred fifty dollars nor more than five hundred dollars, and imprisoned for not less than thirty days nor more than six months.  Imposition or execution of sentence under this Paragraph shall not be suspended unless the offender is placed on probation with the minimum conditions that he:
(a)  Serve forty-eight hours in jail without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence, or in lieu thereof, perform no less than eighty hours of court-approved community service activities, at least half of which shall consist of participation in a litter abatement or collection program.
(b)  Participate in a court-approved substance abuse program.
(c)  Participate in a court-approved driver improvement program.
(3)  Nothing in this Section shall prohibit a court from sentencing an offender to serve any portion of the sentence under home incarceration either in lieu of, or in addition to, a term of imprisonment if otherwise allowed under the provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure Article 894.2 and R.S. 14:98.5(B).
(4)  The court may require that the offender not operate a motor vehicle during the period of probation unless any vehicle, while being operated by the offender, is equipped with a functioning ignition interlock device in accordance with R.S. 14:98.5(C).
D.  Court programs regarding substance abuse as provided for by Subsection C of this Section shall include a screening procedure to determine the portions of the program that may be applicable and appropriate for individual offenders.
Acts 2014, No. 385, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 2015.