How Are Underage DUIs Prosecuted?

A DUI conviction can be life-altering. There can be significant fees associated with DUIs, and in some cases, drivers lose their driving privileges. The state of California prosecutes DUIs harshly to keep the roads safe, and penalties increase when the driver is under the legal drinking age of 21. These increased penalties can influence someone’s career, education opportunities, and social life. How do they stack up against the consequences drivers of legal drinking age face?

Do Drivers Under 21 Face Similar Penalties to Legal Drinkers?

Anyone under the age of 21 who receives a DUI in the state of California will be subject to the same criminal consequences as an adult, and often the penalties are more severe. One major difference is that the limit for blood alcohol content is lower for drivers under the legal drinking age.

The Zero-Tolerance Law

A driver under the legal drinking age who has any alcohol in their system will face criminal charges. This is because the state of California has a “zero tolerance,” law that does not allow drivers under the age of 21 to have any trace of alcohol in their systems when behind the wheel. If underage, it doesn’t matter whether you were technically impaired or under the influence, any detectable amount of alcohol found in your system while driving will not be tolerated under the law.

The penalties for underage DUIs increase relative to the amount of alcohol in the driver’s system. Here are the penalties for each blood alcohol threshold:

  • Blood alcohol content of 0.01% or more: Underage drivers with a BAC of 0.01% or more will automatically lose their driving privileges for 1 year. However, this will not be counted as a criminal charge, and there is no possibility of jail time or a DUI on the driver’s record.
  • Blood alcohol content of 0.05% or more: This BAC level would not count as a DUI for a driver over the age of 21. However, it absolutely counts for drivers who are drinking underage and will leave a criminal charge on their record. Jail time is not a consequence; however, they will lose their license for 1 year. They will also be subject to a 3-month DUI class and a fine of $100.
  • Blood alcohol content of 0.08% or more: This is the threshold at which point adult drivers would be charged with a DUI. As such, an underage drinker will be charged the same as an adult driver. The potential consequences include a jail sentence up to 6 months, a DUI class, loss of driving privileges, and probation.

Important Note: A driver of any age can be charged with DUI no matter what their BAC level is. If an officer determines they were driving recklessly (swerving, driving through stop signs, etc.) because of alcohol, they can be charged with a DUI subject to the standard penalties.

Can Underage Drinkers Be Charged with Multiple DUIs?

Underage drinkers can be charged with more than one DUI, just like drunk drivers over the age of 21. The charges can also be stacked. For example, if a driver is pulled over for running a red light and has a blood alcohol content level of 0.07%, they have violated the underage DUI law of 0.05%, the zero-tolerance law of 0.01%, and will receive impaired driving charges as well.

This sort of arrest would only count as a single DUI on an underage drinker’s record. However, because the charges are stacked, the penalties can get very severe very quickly. Drivers can face very high fines, driver’s license restriction for years, and a permanent mark on their record.

Implied Consent

The state of California is an “implied consent” state, which means that, by virtue of being a licensed driver, you have automatically given your consent to breath and blood tests upon arrest for DUI. Any driver, underage or otherwise, who is arrested under the suspicion of DUI will be subject to chemical testing upon arrest.

If a driver refuses to submit to the chemical testing, they will automatically lose their license for 1 year. If they have prior convictions, they can lose their license for 2 or more years.

Social Impacts of an Underage DUI

When an underage driver receives a DUI conviction, it will impact many aspects of their life. Some of these impacts include:

  • College applications: Colleges have the legal right to ask about the criminal histories of their applicants, and underage drivers with DUIs will have to disclose them when applying. Some colleges may deny an applicant with a DUI on their record, or subject them to certain ultimatums that other students wouldn’t face. For example, they may not be able to have a car on campus, or they may have a one-strike policy that will lead to their immediate expulsion if they are caught with alcohol.
  • Difficulties finding employment: Employers have the right to ask about the criminal histories of their applicants just like colleges do. An employer may choose to not hire someone underage who has a DUI.
  • Dwindling social life: Socializing can be difficult when access to a vehicle is limited or nonexistent. Drivers with suspended licenses may not be able to have the same social life they had prior to their conviction.

A driver under the age of 21 who receives a DUI will also have a more difficult time getting car insurance. Insurance companies require underage drivers to obtain an SR-22 certificate that proves their financial responsibility after a DUI charge. The charge itself can also double or triple the driver’s insurance premiums. If the driver was a minor when the offense occurred, their insurance company may choose not to renew their policy.

Can Underage Drivers Have Any Alcohol in Their Vehicles?

California law states that alcohol can only be present in a vehicle if it is completely full and factory-sealed. If an officer discovers an open container of alcohol in the vehicle of an underage driver, that driver could face a misdemeanor charge. The potential penalties include a jail sentence that can last up to 6 months, a fine of $1,000, and an impounded vehicle for 30 days.

What Are Some Common Defenses for Underage DUIs?

When a lawyer crafts a defense strategy, it is based on circumstances specific to the case in question. However, there are some strategies that are commonly used in underage DUI cases, such as:

  • Breath test errors: The machines used to perform breath tests during a DUI arrest are prone to issues, such as poor calibration and user error on the part of the arresting officer, which can lead to invalid results.
  • Blood test errors: Blood test errors, such as improper drawing of the blood, improper storage of the blood, or incorrect documentation can invalidate the tests so they cannot be used in a court of law.
  • Not driving: If someone was approached by an officer when their vehicle was not in motion, they may be able to get their DUI charges dropped, even if they were drunk at the time. An example of this would be someone waiting to sober up in their car before driving.
  • Lack of information from the officer: If the arresting officer fails to inform the driver of their Miranda rights before asking the driver potentially incriminating questions, it can be used as a defense in court. Officers are also legally obligated to inform people that their license may be suspended if they refuse chemical tests.
  • Unlawful arrest: If an officer pulls someone over without probable cause, it can be used as a defense in court. An officer pulling someone over for a DUI must have a reasonable suspicion for doing so.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have received a DUI charge and you’re under the legal drinking age, contact The Law Office of Brian C. Andritch today. With over 18 years of experience litigating DUI cases, our lawyer can help you navigate the legal system and fight zealously on your behalf for a favorable outcome. Reach out today at (559) 484-2112 or via our online contact form.

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