Drunk driving is an incredibly serious offense, and a DUI conviction can lead to not only a suspended license but even jail time. But the stakes are even higher for those under 21, who not only face more stringent BAC requirements than the standard intoxication threshold BAC of 0.08%, but mandatory PAS testing, and the potential of delaying obtaining their license if they do not yet have one.
What Counts as Driving Under the Influence for Drivers Under 21?
Driving under the influence for any person under the age of 21 in California is defined as any person under 21 years old who has a deductible blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or greater. There are additional charges that the driver could face, as well.
How is BAC Measured in California?
The blood alcohol content is officially measured with a blood or breath DUI chemical test. However, when concerning underage drivers or potential underage drinking and driving, the test may consist of what’s referred to as a “PAS” test. PAS stands for preliminary alcohol, and can be conducted in the field, and is considered a roadside test.
The preliminary alcohol screening, and is most frequently measured with a portable breathalyzer test. While those over 21 are given the option to consent to the test if they are suspected of intoxication, those under 21 face an automatically suspended license if they refuse. Additionally, if a driver potentially facing an under-21 DUI refuses the PAS test, they are barred from applying for a restricted license.
The Difference in DUI Offenses In California
There are several different potential offenses that California drivers may face when they either possess or consume alcohol while driving. These range from the under-21 zero-tolerance DUI statute to an enhanced underage DUI charge, and more.
Zero-Tolerance Underage DUI
Under California vehicle code 23136, those who are under 21 and are pulled over for suspected DUI will be asked to submit to a roadside preliminary alcohol screening. If the results of this screening show a detectable blood alcohol content of at least 0.01%, then the driver can face a charge for violation of the zero-tolerance law.
The driver may refuse to participate in the preliminary alcohol screening, however, this will result in an automatic 1-year license suspension. This offense is not considered a criminal charge, it is considered a civil offense.
Underage DUI W/BAC 0.05% Or Higher
California vehicle code 23140 states that a driver under the age of 21 may face more severe penalties for having more detectable alcohol in their system. Unlike the zero-tolerance law, violations of VEH 23140 carry potential criminal charges. If an underage driver is taken into custody and placed under arrest for this offense, they will generally be given a post-arrest DUI chemical test to confirm the BAC.
Penalties for violation and conviction under VEH 23140 can include a fine, as well as license suspension for a full year, as well as a mandatory alcohol education program for those over 18. The alcohol education course will be a minimum of 3 months, often longer.
California vehicle code 23152 is considered a “standard” DUI charge. It is the charge reserved for drivers whose abilities are impaired or compromised due to drugs or alcohol, or for drivers who drive with a BAC of 0.08%. VEH 23152 is a criminal misdemeanor, which can result in criminal penalties upon conviction.
Penalties for conviction under 23152 carry a mandatory suspension of the driver’s license, along with between 3 and 5 years of probation. Fines can range from nearly $400 to $1,000, as well as either a 3-month or 9-month drug or alcohol education program. The driver may also face a potential 6-month jail sentence for repeat offenders.
Underage Possession of Alcohol in a Vehicle
A charge of violating California vehicle code 23224 can be laid if the person under 21 is determined to be in possession of alcohol while in a vehicle. The only exceptions to this are:
- If the container is full, sealed, and unopened
- If they are accompanied by their parent or guardian
- If they are getting rid of the alcohol per an adult’s direction
- If they are transporting it as part of their job while working for someone with a legitimate and valid liquor license
Charges under VEH 23224 are often laid in addition to charges under the zero-tolerance law and are a misdemeanor criminal offense. A conviction can carry penalties of confiscation and impoundment of the vehicle for up to 30 days, fines of up to $1,000, and suspension of the driver’s license for a full year.
Can You Be Charged with Multiple Offenses for Drunk Driving?
In many cases, you can be charged with multiple DUI offenses for a single incident, though there are some stipulations. If you are found to have a BAC of 0.05%, you will likely be charged with both the zero-tolerance law, as well as VEH 23140. If you have a BAC of 0.08% or more, you will likely face charges under the zero-tolerance law as well as VEH 23152.
While drivers can face multiple charges, you can only be convicted of one type of DUI criminal charge per offense. This means that even if you are facing charges under VEH 23136, VEH 23140, and VEH 23152, you may be convicted under VEH 23136, and either VEH 23140 or VEH 23152 but not both.
What is the Penalty for Someone Under 21 Violating the Zero-Tolerance Law?
Since the zero-tolerance law is a civil offense and not a criminal offense, the penalty is less severe than the criminal equivalents. The only penalty that a driver faces for violating VEH 23136 is a mandatory and automatic DMV suspension or revocation of the driver’s license. This is an administrative measure known as a “per se suspension”.
When the officer at the scene cites the driver for the violation, the license will be confiscated and sent to the DMV. The driver will then be given a temporary license that is valid for 30 days. When the 30-day period concludes, the license will be suspended or revoked unless it is formally contested.
If the driver did not have a valid license at the time the offense allegedly occurred, the administrative suspension will prevent the driver from obtaining a license for one year. The suspension was due to a PAS or DUI chemical test refusal, the suspension can also be contested.
Is There Any Way to Fight or Appeal a Zero-Tolerance Suspension?
You can request a hearing to prevent the suspension of your license, but the request must be made within 10 days of the original citation. If you have an attorney, they can also request the hearing on your behalf. This will place a moratorium on the suspension, which will then only go into effect if the driver loses the under-21 DUI hearing.
Most hearings take place via phone, however, you can request an in-person hearing at a DMV regional location. The following issues will be discussed:
- Were you driving the vehicle?
- Were you lawfully detained?
- Did the driver refuse a chemical DUI test or was their BAC over 0.01%?
If your hearing was successful your license will be returned to you and the suspension canceled, if you lose the hearing you must wait until the conclusion of the suspension to reinstate full driving permissions.
What is a Restricted Hardship License?
Drivers convicted of an underage DUI can get a restricted license, also known as a hardship license, which can allow them to maintain some semblance of a normal life following suspension or revocation. Drivers are only eligible for a restricted hardship license if they did not initially refuse the preliminary alcohol screening. Additional requirements include:
- Requiring a vehicle for:
- Transportation due to illness
- Getting to and from school
- Getting to and from work
- A family business that contributes to the family’s income
- All other transportation options being deemed insufficient by the DMV
Those drivers who are determined to be eligible for the restricted hardship license must still serve the mandatory initial 30-day suspension following the DUI.
Can My License Ever Be Reinstated After a Zero-Tolerance Conviction?
The suspension or revocation received after conviction for underage DUI under the zero-tolerance law can be reversed and the license reinstated, following the conclusion of the suspension or revocation period. The automatic DMV suspension can be reinstated by taking the following steps:
- Paying a mandatory $100 fee to the DMV to reissue the license
- Filing proof of insurance and financial responsibility with the DMV, known as an SR-22
- Maintaining proof of continuous financial responsibility for three years
Are You Facing Charges Under the Zero-Tolerance Law?
If you or someone you know may be facing potential penalties for under-21 DUI in Los Angeles or anywhere else in California, one of the first things you should do is to contact a defense attorney. Working with an experienced DUI defense lawyer can be your best chance at minimizing the penalties while giving you a powerful advocate for the entire process. Reach out today to discuss your case details confidentially.