California DUI laws hold underage drivers to a stricter standard for driving under the influence of alcohol. Unlike adult DUI laws in California, underage drivers can be charged with drunk driving even though their driving ability is not impaired by alcohol. In addition, it is unlawful for anyone under the age of 21 years to drive with any alcohol in their system.
Two laws directly target drivers under the age of 21 years who drive under the influence of alcohol:
- California’s Zero Tolerance Law for Underage Drivers (CVC §23136)
- Underage Driving with BAC of .05% or Greater (CVC §23140)
It is important to remember that a police officer could charge an underage driver with one of California’s stricter “adult” DUI laws. For example, a teenager could be charged with DUI causing injury or driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). An officer may also charge an underage driver with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The charges you face depend on the circumstances of the DUI stop and arrest.
A DUI conviction for underage drinking and driving under either law can result in severe DUI penalties. A California DUI defense lawyer can evaluate your case to determine defenses that could help you beat underage DUI charges.
California’s Zero Tolerance DUI Laws for Underage Drivers
An underage driver is someone who is under the age of 21 years (legal drinking age). According to CVC §23136, it is unlawful for anyone under 21 years old to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01% or greater. The law applies to alcoholic beverages and medications containing alcohol.
BAC is measured using a PAS (preliminary alcohol screening) test during a DUI stop. An example of a PAS is a roadside breathalyzer test that measures the amount of alcohol on the person’s breath. The machine converts the readings to the equivalent BAC level.
The law presumes that anyone who drives under 21 years gives consent to a PAS test or other chemical test if lawfully detained by law enforcement officers for allegedly driving with a BAC of .01% or higher.
An offense under this code section is not a crime. It is a civil offense. The only punishment for underage drinking and driving under the Zero Tolerance code section is a mandatory one-year driver’s license suspension for the first offense. However, the court may revoke the person’s driving privileges for two or three years if there is a history of drunk driving offenses.
Underage DUI in California with a BAC of .05% or Higher
CVC §23140 states that it is unlawful for anyone 21 years of age or younger to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .05% or higher. This criminal offense is known as “underage DUI.”
In most cases, police officers confirm underage DUI with a post-arrest DUI chemical test. The test may be a blood or breath test. The implied consent laws apply to a test refusal by an underage driver. Refusing a chemical test for a lawsuit DUI arrest results in a one-year driver’s license suspension.
What Is the Penalty for Underage DUI with a BAC of .05% or Higher?
The penalty for underage DUI does not result in jail time. However, punishment for a first-time underage drinking and driving conviction include:
- One-year driver’s licenses suspension by the California Department of Motor Vehicles
- $100 fine
- Three-month mandatory alcohol education program for drivers between 18 to 20 years of age
The police department may impound the driver’s vehicle for a minimum of five days if they have prior DUI convictions and their BAC was .10% at the time they were arrested (or they refused to take a chemical test).
Penalties for Underage Drunk Driver Charged with Standard DUI
An underage driver might be charged with “adult” DUI if their BAC was .08% or higher or the driver’s ability to operate the motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol. If there were no injuries or aggravating, the minor faces penalties for a first-offense DUI misdemeanor. Those penalties include:
- Loss of driving privileges for one year
- A fine of $390 to $1,000
- Up to six months in county jail
- Mandatory attendance for three to nine months in an alcohol and/or drug education program
- Information (summary) probation for three to five years
The penalties for underage drinking and driving could increase depending on the circumstances of the arrest. For example, if a minor is charged with DUI causing injuries, they could face significant prison sentences if someone dies because of a DUI accident. An adult DUI conviction stays on a minor’s driving and criminal records for ten years.
If your child is charged with underage DUI, talk with an experienced California DUI defense attorney. There could be one or more defenses that could result in the DUI charges being dismissed or reduced.
Fighting Underage DUI Charges Under Vehicle Code §23140 VC
As with adult DUI charges, one or more defenses may apply in your case. Your attorney investigates the circumstances surrounding your DUI arrest to identify problems with the prosecution’s case. Your attorney also obtains copies of the evidence the state has against you to determine the validity of the evidence.
Potential defenses to underage drinking and driving include, but not be limited to:
Lack of Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause
A police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a violation of law was taking place to make a traffic stop. Likewise, the officer must have probable cause to make an arrest. For example, pulling a teenager over solely for driving late at night or in a specific neighborhood may not be a legal traffic stop.
If the police officer violates your civil rights by making an illegal stop or arrest, the court may throw out all evidence collected during the traffic stop and the arrest. Without the evidence, the prosecution might have to dismiss the charges.
You Were Not Driving
You must be driving the car to be guilty of underage DUI. Sitting in a car drinking is not driving under the influence. However, the police officer could charge you with other offenses, such as underage drinking or drinking in a motor vehicle.
Challenging the Results of a Chemical Test
The results of a blood or breath test may not be accurate. Several reasons could cause a chemical test to give inaccurate BAC readings. Reasons to challenge BAC results include, but are not limited to:
- The DUI machine malfunctioned because of a lack of maintenance, default, or improperly calibration
- A medical condition caused a false reading, such as GERD, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and acid reflux
- The technician incorrectly drew the blood sample
- Contamination of the blood sample
- Your diet caused a high BAC level, such as a low carb/high protein diet
- Errors in the chain of custody
- Lack of training for the breathalyzer operator
- The police officer did not wait the required time before administering a breathalyzer test
- Rising blood alcohol levels
- You have dental work that caused the alcohol to pool inside your mouth
Any number of problems could exist with chemical tests. An expert witness may assist in proving that the BAC results from a chemical test were inaccurate or subject to reasonable doubt.
Errors and Mistakes by Police Officers
Law enforcement officers must follow specific procedures during a DUI investigation. If the officers made procedural errors, it could work in your favor. A DUI defense lawyer can use mistakes made by police officers to your advantage to create reasonable doubt for a jury.
Related Offenses to Underage Drinking and Driving
The police officer might arrest you for Underage Possession of Alcohol in a Vehicle (CVC §23224). The law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 years to have alcohol inside of a motor vehicle unless the container is full, sealed, and unopened and:
- The minor is carrying the alcohol as part of their job for an establishment with a valid liquor license OR
- The minor’s parents or another adult is in the vehicle OR
- The minor is disposing of the alcohol according to instructions by a parent or other adult.
A conviction under this code section is a misdemeanor. You could pay a fine of up to $1,000, lose your driver’s license for a year, and have your vehicle impounded for up to 30 days.
Another common alcohol-related charge is possession of marijuana or other drugs. Drug possession carries severe criminal penalties. You could face substantial jail time, fines, and other punishments based on the type and amount of drugs in your possession.
Underage DUI Can Have a Significant Impact on Your Future
If you are convicted of underage drinking and driving, you could have difficulty obtaining a job or getting into the school of your choice. In addition, your insurance premiums may be too high for you to pay, which leaves you with no alternative but public transportation.
Talk with a DUI defense lawyer before you plead guilty to DUI charges. Do not trust a police officer or prosecutor to tell you what you should do. Instead, get the facts from a trusted legal advocate who has your best interest at heart.