Attorney at Law

Zero Tolerance

James Parker
February 28, 2022
Last reviewed by
September 10, 2023

What Is Zero Tolerance?

Zero tolerance refers to a policy of enacting laws or regulations that, if broken, have mandatory penalties and punishments without accounting for any mitigating or extenuating circumstances. A law created under a zero tolerance policy will not account for the severity, the intent, or the extent to which the law has been broken. Under zero tolerance philosophy, a law is either broken or it isn’t.

An example of a zero tolerance policy in America is the policy of most schools to prohibit any and all weapons or drugs. In its enforcement, administrators do not grant exceptions if the weapon or drug is not in use, simply being discovered to be in possession of a weapon or illegal drug on school campus is enough to receive immediate, unappealable punishment. 

Another zero tolerance example applied to minors is zero tolerance DUI laws. These laws are relatively recent and have changed the way that states punish minors. Originally, DUI legislation was universally applied without regard to age. This meant that as long as a minor was under the legal limit for adults they were technically not guilty of a DUI offense. Between the 1984 passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act and its universal adoption in 1988, legislatures began to pass zero tolerance laws addressing the combination violation of driving under the influence and drinking under the age of 21.   

Key Takeaways

  • Zero tolerance refers to a policy that does not allow for any deviation without punishment.
  • Zero tolerance DUI policies refer to a strict requirement that minors under the age of 21 have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.0 whenever they are operating a motor vehicle on public roads.
  • Zero tolerance charges can be more difficult to fight due to the extreme nature of the rules applied.
  • If you are facing a DUI as a minor found to be over the zero tolerance limit, an experienced DUI attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by leveraging experience and expert testimony.

Zero Tolerance and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Charges

Zero Tolerance DUI policies can be very troublesome for defendants. Not all states have an absolute zero tolerance for an underage driver. Minor drivers in states like Colorado, South Carolina, and Washington state have to keep their blood alcohol content (BAC) under 0.02% in order to avoid getting a zero tolerance DUI. While this grants leeway, it’s still far below the usual limit of 0.08%.

In addition to being subject to more rigorous standards for being found to be driving under the influence, there are also harsher penalties even before being found guilty. In Florida, for instance, an officer who finds a minor has a BAC over the limit from a breathalyzer test is allowed to confiscate the driver’s license on the spot. This suspension is for six months and is virtually impossible to appeal.

These harsh standards are in sharp contrast to a DUI charge leveled against an adult who would not be required to give up their license unless they were to refuse testing. A completely compliant minor in a DUI investigation may still end up having their license suspended.

Additionally, being charged with a zero tolerance DUI does not preempt the defendant from being charged with a full DUI charge. This means that if the prosecutor believes that the charge is appropriate, the defendant may face the full penalties of a full DUI charge in addition for suffering any immediate penalties for allegedly violating the zero tolerance DUI law. Underage DUI charges can carry a monetary fine between $250 and $1000 and could result in up to six months in jail or an equivalent amount of time in mandatory community service. 

Bottom Line

Underage DUI charges are daunting to face alone. The heightened penalties lowered bar for guilt can make proving innocence an uphill battle. The best thing to do if you have been charged with an underage DUI is to contact a DUI attorney.

A DUI attorney specializes in the DUI laws of your specific area and can advise you on the course of action that will result in the best outcome for your case. Additionally, unlike a public defender, a DUI attorney can devote their full energy to finding the evidence, law, and expert witnesses that will help your case the most.

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