3 Ways Arizona Underage DUI Accident can Impact Minors and their Parents

Your Guide to Understanding Consequences of DUI with Accidents; and Unforeseen Parental Liability Actions

In a tragic turn of events, Phoenix police reported that a 14-year-old boy, driving a mid-size sedan, allegedly under the influence, sped through a red light signal and crashed into an SUV.

The SUV was carrying three people, a man, his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter.

The toddler was thrown from the SUV and sustained life threatening injuries.  The man suffered head and lung injuries.

The man’s girlfriend, a passenger in the SUV is listed in stable condition but still in the hospital late last week.

The 14-year-old driver of the sedan that ran the red light signal, and his 17- year-old passenger whom the police report were under the influence of alcohol both suffered minor injuries.

It is unclear who owned the sedan driven by the 14-year-old was driving.

The driver was later taken to the Juvenile Court Center.  The 17-year-old passenger was released to his family.

The 14-year-old has reportedly since been charged as an adult, and faces 4 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

According to Maricopa County Prosecutor and Court records, the decision to prosecute the youth as an adult was based on the severity of the accident and victim’s injuries.

A secured release bond was ordered by the judge for $100,000.00, and the next court date set.

Charges of this nature are considered dangerous and violent crimes in Arizona, and call for aggravated sentencing.

Penalties for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges can expose a person to decades and long-term prison sentences if convicted.

A follow-up media report indicated that the driver and passengers in the other vehicle are recovering from their injuries.

3 Ways Tragic Underage DUI Accidents Impact a Minor and their Parents.  

The three ways underage drinking and minor consumption will likely impact the driver and/or their parents following a tragic DUI accident are:

  • Serious injuries or fatalities;
  • Criminal charges, penalties and consequences to the accused;
  • Civil and in some cases criminal liability against the parents or guardians

Serious Injuries or Fatalities  

The chances of a driver or passenger involved in an Underage DUI accident suffering a serious injury or fatality are higher than with adult impaired driving crashes.

Recent statistics by the National Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 23% of drivers aged 15 to 20 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes were under the influence of alcohol.

According to the CDC there are a number of reasons for the increased risk of injuries by minor of other underage drinkers.

5 reasons for increased risk of underage DUI accidents

Here are 5 reasons the CDC reported as reasons why underage DUI accidents have proven to result in more serious injuries or fatalities, than adult DUI accidents:

  • A teen driver’s ability to drive may be impaired after only one drink, which puts them at greater risk for a DUI accident.
  • Young drivers are more likely than experienced drivers to underestimate or be unable to recognize or react effectively to hazardous or dangerous driving situations;
  • Teens are more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors and speeding, than adults or experienced drivers;
  • Recent seatbelt use statistics show that younger drivers have lower rates of use than older drivers.  In 2013 only 55 percent of high school age drivers reported using their seatbelts when they were passengers in vehicles;
  • The Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) at all levels suggested a higher risk of involvement in an automobile crash than an adult driver.

Criminal Penalties for Minor Consumption, Underage DUI, Aggravated Assault Laws

The second important impact of a DUI involving a serious accident is criminal charges, and penalties.  The charges, their classifications, and penalties for conviction will vary, based on the following circumstances:

  • Age of the driver and whether or not they are charged as adults;
  • Seriousness of the accident and victim injuries;
  • Whether or not fatality occurred;
  • Blood Alcohol Content Level (BAC):
  • Prior DUI or other alcohol related offenses;
  • Age of driver;
  • Validity and standing of license to drive;
  • Prior criminal record;
  • Other mitigating or aggravated circumstances

Arizona has no tolerance for underage drinking and driving.  Anything above .00% can result in a DUI citation, even if there are no physical signs of impairment and or injuries.

Just for an underage DUI, a minor can face serious consequences such as a license suspension for up to two years or until the driver is 21, a Class 1 misdemeanor criminal record, a minimum of one day in jail, fines, probation, alcohol abuse education, and community service.

Typically, minors who commit crimes are sent to juvenile court, on the assumption that they don’t understand the consequences of their actions.

However, under A.R.S. 13-501, a juvenile between 14 and 17 who commits any violent felony offense—such as aggravated assault— may be tried in adult court.

Aggravated assault can be charged in a variety of situations, such as when a person commits misdemeanor assault and also causes serious physical injury to someone else or uses a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument in the commission of the offense.

For a first-time offender, the punishment is usually less severe, on the assumption that a child can be rehabilitated.

However, when a minor is tried as an adult, aggravated assault is a class 3 felony that is punishable by 5-15 years in prison.

When the victim of an aggravated assault involving use of a deadly weapon, is under the age of 15, charges could be elevated to a Class 2 Felony, with aggravated sentencing that could expose them to maximums of 21-27 year prison terms.

Many serious charges against minors, including vehicular manslaughter or homicide, are heard in the juvenile courts.

If fatalities result in such tragic cases, a minor could be charged with a felony homicide, such as vehicular manslaughter (A.R.S. §13-1103) or vehicular homicide (A.R.S. §13-1102).

Vehicular manslaughter is charged when someone recklessly causes the death of another.  Vehicular homicide is charged when someone negligently causes the death of another.

If the court decides to try a minor as an adult for vehicular manslaughter or homicide, the penalties are severe.

Manslaughter is a Class 2 dangerous felony and is punishable by 4-10 years in jail.

For offenses in violation of extreme DUI where the suspects BAC was 0 .15 or greater, the minimum sentence is 10.5-21 years.

Negligent homicide with a car while drunk driving is usually charged as a “dangerous” class 4 felonies, exposing a person to prison sentences of 4-8 years.

In additional to criminal penalties, civil penalties also apply with regard to denial, revocation, or suspension of driver’s licenses, fines, and substance abuse counseling.

If the charges result in a felony conviction, it will mean loss of other civil rights such as the right to vote, and possess or carry firearms.

Differences between Criminal Liability and Civil Liability 

The main differences between civil law and criminal law are the complainants or entities filing the complaint; nature of the dispute, and the remedies.

Let’s break those down with examples:  In criminal law the charges are filed by the State or the County.

The type of dispute is a state criminal law that the suspect is accused of violating.  The remedy is prosecution and penalties for conviction.

In contrast, for civil claims, the complainant is the injured victim or their family in the case of wrongful death.

The complainant is known as the plaintiff.  The dispute is that the plaintiff alleges that the defendant is responsible for the injuries or death as a result of wrongdoing, neglect, or recklessness.

The remedy is to recovery a monetary settlement for losses, or coverage for medical bills and other losses suffered by the victim as a result of their injuries.

So in the context of criminal law, it means holding parents criminally responsible to some extent for criminal conduct of their children.

Parental Criminal Liability Injuries caused by a Minor’s Criminal Conduct

Parental Liability has long been a controversial subject throughout the United States.

When we think of liability the first thing that comes to mind for most people is personal injury liability, which pertains to civil law.

In Arizona the criminal laws that shift liability to the parents are scarce as they apply to a child’s actions that have resulted in serious injury or harm to another.

Though the laws are few, they apply to very specific circumstances that give rise to parental liability.

For example, under Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-661, a parent can be held liable for an act of willful or malicious misconduct of a minor that results in injuries to another.

This applies to whether or not the parents could have anticipated the misconduct, for purposes of civil damages.

In these cases, the parents can be held jointly and severally liable for up to $10,000 for a tort committed by a minor.

Moreover, the court may order either a juvenile or his parents to reimburse the county responsible for the juvenile’s detention for the detention costs.

Nonetheless, a parent may still be held criminally liable for actions or inactions that contributed to a dangerous or violent crime.

For example, in the case of a deadly DUI accident, the parents may be held liable if they offered or supplied the liquor to the minor or gave them permissive use of the vehicle they were driving under the influence.

Civil Liability surrounding DUI with Accidents

We discussed the consequences, existence, and non-existence of criminal liability in Arizona.

But the situation is quite different when it comes to civil liability.

State laws vary with regard to both criminal and civil liability.

Nearly every state has civil laws that hold parent responsible in some form for tort or criminal conduct of minors.

I’ve asked Tina Willis, of Tina Willis Law – Orlando an experienced car accident lawyer, from Orlando, Florida to share her thoughts on this topic. Tina M. Willis is a trusted colleague, and former law professor, and serving personal injury victims in Orlando Florida.

The topics I asked Tina Willis if she would discuss evolved around whether or not parents could be held liable under civil law for injuries caused by a minors due to criminal conduct or wrong doing.

Tina Willis shared the following astute information, as the question pertained to Florida Laws:

Featured Guest Commentary by Tina M. Willis, of Tina Willis Law – Orlando, Personal Injury Attorney in Florida  

Parental Responsibility Laws in Florida 

“Yes, there are many ways that a parent could be held responsible for any injuries or deaths caused by their minor children, while drinking and driving. 

For one thing, Florida has a Statute,  322.09, http://goo.gl/238KVa, that requires parents to sign the driver’s license applications of their children. 

When they do, they agree to be financially responsible for any injuries or deaths caused by their children while drinking and driving

The Florida statute establishes pretty rock solid liability with very few exceptions. 

Even if that statute did not apply (let’s say the child didn’t have a license), the parents still might be responsible if they knew of a child’s dangerous propensities, or somehow authorized, contributed to, benefited from, or ratified the child’s bad behavior. 

The non-statutory legal arguments are very complicated.  But a skillful injury attorney in a serious injury or death case could probably establish some degree of parental liability, at least in the great majority of cases, even without the statute. 

And their motivation for developing creative arguments would be higher, if the injuries were more serious, or a death occurred. 

This reference,  http://goo.gl/1cLPCR, is an academic thesis in honorary legal studies, which focuses on the complexity of the non-statutory arguments.

 It also provides some discussion regarding of the potential insurance coverage issues (whether there is any insurance coverage is usually the more important practical question).

Also, Florida has something called the “dangerous instrumentality” doctrine.  That doctrine basically says that the owner of a vehicle is responsible for any injuries caused by any other driver of the vehicle, if driven with the owner’s knowledge and consent. 

So, if parents allow children to drive their vehicles, they are responsible for any resulting injuries.

The bottom line is, when it comes to driving, parents absolutely must watch and control their minor children.”  – Tina M. Willis, of Tina Willis Law – Orlando, Personal Injury Attorney in Orlando, Florida.  


Florida Statute 322.09: Financial responsibility for negligence or misconduct of minor: http://goo.gl/238KVa

Parental Accountability for Children in Florida – “Examining the Oxymoron of Parental Liability”:  http://goo.gl/1cLPCR

What Parents can do to Help Teens Avoid Impaired Driving

There is an infinite number of resources available that serve to support parents in their efforts to help prevent minor and underage drinking and driving.  The CDC offers these four recommendations:

  • Set an example for your children by not drinking and driving;
  • Discuss and ask your teen to comply with a  “Parent-Teen Driving Agreement”;
  • Share more facts about the dangers of impaired driving;
  • Provide statistics about the hazards of teen drinking and driving.

Safety and prevention resources referenced above can be found at the CDC website: “Parents are the Key to Safe Teen Drivers” http://goo.gl/SEbqow

What to Do if you Receive a Complaint, Criminal Charges, or Demand Letter 

As the you receive any type of legal document as a result of a DUI with Accident, you should never ignore it.

If a complaint or charges are being brought by the state, government or other jurisdiction you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to discuss the matter.  They will assist you in determining the proper course of action in response to the complaint or charges, and provide you with option for your defense.

Ignoring criminal charges or failure to appear for your court date as instructed will result in a bench warrant for your arrest.  It is never a good idea to go to court without consulting an experienced criminal attorney first.

If you receive formal or informal civil documents from the driver or passenger of the other vehicle making claim against you, it is important that you immediately contact your insurance carrier, and/or submit the documents for review. They will direct you as to the proper instructions.  You should never provide a response or comply with a demand for economic consideration without consulting your insurance carrier first.

Criminal Defense for Aggravated Assault Phoenix AZ

If you face any DUI or Aggravated assault charges, it is important that you retain a highly skilled and experienced Attorney such as James Novak, of the Law Office of James Novak, PLLC.  He will make sure your rights are protected, that you are treated fairly, and will provide a strong defense for your charges, or those of a loved one.

If you or your child is charged with any DUI charges, aggravated assault, or other criminal offenses, call Phoenix felony defense attorney, James Novak to discuss your matter and your options for a defense as soon as reasonably possible.

James Novak is a former prosecutor, and experienced and highly effective criminal defense and DUI trial lawyer.  You can contact James Novak 24/7 at 480-413-1499 for a confidential and free initial consultation if you face active criminal charges.  The Law Office of James Novak, PLLC serves clients with new active charges in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale, AZ., or other surrounding East Valley Cities within Maricopa County.

Additional Resources

A.R.S. §13-501

A.R.S. §12-661

A.R.S. §13-1103

National Centers for Disease Control

Other Articles of Interest

Violations of “Search and Seizure” Laws: How they Impact Prosecution, July 23, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court Rules No Warrant Needed To Collect DNA If Arrested, June 9, 2013

Yes, You Have Constitutional Rights At An Arizona Checkpoint, July 5, 2014

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