If you or your son/daughter have been charged with an underage DUI in the Los Angeles Area, the consequences of a conviction could be severe and long-lasting. And that goes beyond just losing your driving privileges for months or years on end; the repercussions could also potentially extend to your ability to land a good-paying job or get accepted on a college/university application. In short, a DUI on your record can haunt you for years in numerous ways and hold you back from living “a normal life.”
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we have intimate knowledge of the various California statutes dealing with underage DUIs, and know how to build the best possible defense for your case. We will fight tenaciously in your best interests and do everything legally possible to secure a dismissal of your DUI allegation or to win the legal battle at your DMV hearing and/or jury trial case.
If you are facing a DUI charge as a minor, do not hesitate to reach out to us for help and advice by calling us at 424-281-3020 anytime 24/7.
What Is an Underage DUI in California?
California Vehicle Code Section 23136 defines an underage DUI as the act of operating a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of alcohol in your system (a BAC of .01% or higher) while under the legal drinking age, which in California is 21.
This is known as California's Zero Tolerance Law since no amount of blood-alcohol content whatsoever is tolerated.
However, it is possible for those under 21 to be charged with an ordinary "adult" DUI as well, if their BAC is at .08% or higher. And the mere possession of alcohol in the vehicle is an additional offense for those below 21 that can make the total sentence that much more severe.
Possible Punishments for Underage DUI
How underage DUI is punished can vary significantly based on the facts of the case and the defendant's past criminal record (if any). An underage DUI with even .01% BAC can result in a 12-month driver's license suspension. If the BAC was .05% or higher, a fine and mandatory attendance at a state-approved DUI school is added to the one-year suspension.
Possession of alcohol in your vehicle when you are under the legal drinking age is punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and a 30-day impoundment of one’s vehicle.
If the BAC was .08% or higher, it is possible that the under 21 arrestee will be charged with standard DUI, which carries the following punishment: Immediate suspension of the defendant's driver's license, a maximum of six months in county jail, mandatory attendance at a DUI school, three to five years of misdemeanor probation, and a fine in the range of $1,900.00 to $2,500.00.
More on VC 23136, the "No Tolerance Law"
It is important to realize that any form of alcohol, and not only from alcoholic beverages, is covered under the No Tolerance Law. Thus, it is not a defense against underage DUI that your BAC is .01% but the alcohol came from, say, an alcohol-containing medication you were taking.
Also note that the PAS (breathalyzer) test is the means of detecting BAC for underage DUIs. While the accuracy of the test can be challenged, you cannot demand that some other type of BAC test be used as the standard.
A violation of Vehicle Code section 23136 in itself will not create a criminal record, and there is only one sentencing element. However, that element, being the loss of your driving privileges for a full year, is quite significant.
You still have the right to request a DMV Administrative Per Se hearing within 10 days of the arrest. And as with other types of DUI's, a good DUI defense lawyer can help you win your hearing. And if an outright victory is not possible, a good DUI lawyer will likely be able to negotiate and obtain for you a restricted license, which will allow you to drive to/from work and school.
More on VC 23140, Driving with a BAC of .05% or higher
To drive with .05% alcohol in your blood when under 21 is an "infraction," the lowest level of crime. According to the terminology of some, this is called an underage DUI while a violation of the No Tolerance Statute is labeled an under-21 DUI.
In this case, not only the PAS but also a blood or breath test at the police station will likely be used to establish your BAC.
As an infraction, a jail term cannot be a part of the sentence. However, loss of your license for a year, and if 18 or older, a three-month DUI school requirement can apply. Such punishments are certainly serious enough to merit hiring a DUI lawyer to fight the charge.
More on VC 23224, the "Open Container Law"
This is a misdemeanor offense, and thus more serious than the two violations mentioned just above. A 30-day loss of your vehicle, a one-year loss of your license, and a $1,000 fine may apply.
However, there are "exceptions" under the statute that allow those under 21 to carry alcohol in their vehicle if:
- The alcohol's container has not yet been opened, is still sealed, and is still at its original "full" level.
- A parent or other adult is in the vehicle with the under-21 driver.
- The driver is transporting alcohol as part of his/her job.
- The driver is disposing of the alcohol because a parent/adult instructed him/her to do so.
More on VC 23152(a) and VC 23152(b)
Either a BAC reading of .08% or higher or a lesser amount that nonetheless is clearly causing driver impairment count as a standard, or "adult" DUI. Keep in mind that It is possible to be charged with a standard DUI regardless of your age.
This is a misdemeanor offense and is treated more seriously than some of the other offenses listed above. Loss of driving privileges, years of probation, a hefty fine, up to six months in jail, and either three or nine months in a DUI school can all apply.
Thus, if a minor is being charged with an adult-level DUI crime, it is especially critical that he or she be provided with the full advantages of an experienced DUI defense attorney.
Multiple Charges Can Apply
Let us say, for example, that an 18-year-old is pulled over by police when they notice him/her driving erratically. An open and empty container of beer is spotted in the back seat, and the PAS test yields .10%. Later, at the police station, a blood test yields a BAC of .09%.
Such a suspect could well be charged with all five of the DUI violations mentioned above. Because the BAC is .01% or higher, .05% or higher, and .08% or higher, he could be charged with any or all of them. And because of the erratic driving that violated traffic laws, the defendant can be charged with a DUI on the basis of “evident driving impairment due to alcohol.” But it would still only show as a single DUI conviction on his record.
The open container of an alcoholic beverage in the vehicle would account for the last of the five possible charges that could apply simultaneously..
While such a defendant would face five charges, however, he really would only likely receive separate sentencing elements for the DUI and for the open container of alcohol.
Common Defense Strategies
While many might assume there is little to nothing that can be done to fight an underage DUI charge, in fact, there are many effective defense strategies that can be employed. Some of the most common defenses we use at Los Angeles DUI Lawyer include the following:
- Mistaken identity: You were not in the vehicle or you were not the one driving the vehicle. If you were only seen by police in a parked car on the side of the road or if you switched seats with the person who had been driving after stopping the car, the police may not be able to prove you were even the one operating the vehicle, whatever you BAC level was.
- No probable cause: The stop and/or the arrest were conducted in the absence of a lawful rationale. Law enforcement are not permitted to simply stop and search vehicles at whim. They must have observed a traffic violation or an obvious sign of intoxication. Otherwise, it could be seen as a form of “police harassment.”
- No Miranda Rights read: The arresting officer did not properly inform you of your Constitutional rights before making the arrest. You have the right, first of all, to be informed you are being arrested. Second, you cannot be legally interrogated (questioned in a way that could incriminate you) by police until after you are told you are under arrest and have been read your Miranda (Constitutional) Rights.
- Faulty BAC equipment: The breathalyzer or other BAC testing equipment may have malfunctioned due to lack of proper maintenance. And police are required to maintain all such equipment on a regular schedule and to document in official records that such maintenance has been performed.
- Improper procedure: The arresting officer failed to follow required police protocols in administering the BAC test or in making the arrest. Specifically, Title 17 mandates that blood samples be taken and stored in accordance with very strict rules. Any deviation could bring it into question whether or not the sample was contaminated. And an extra sample must have been taken at the time for use by your defense attorney, so it can be independently tested at another lab.
- Police report unreliable: If the police report is incomplete, sloppily filled in, obviously inaccurate at points, or directly conflicts with other testimony and evidence, doubt may be cast on its reliability, which undermines one of the main tools of the prosecution.
- FSTs are not always trustworthy: Failure to pass the field sobriety tests can occur for reasons other than intoxication with alcohol or drugs. Exhaustion, nervousness, medical conditions, the effects of legitimate medications, and more can mimic the effects of alcohol.
- Rising BAC level: Your BAC level was still on the rise when the test was taken, so that it would have been lower while actually behind the wheel. It can sometimes take hours for BAC to peak, and the time required varies from person to person based on their tolerance level.
- Margin of error: The BAC reading was within the testing equipment's statistical margin of error. When a reading is barely at .08, .05, or .01, a retest may reveal a lower result. And even without a new test, being within the margin of error creates a reasonable doubt.
- BAC high for other reasons: It could be that mouthwash, acid reflux disease, a high-protein or low-carb diet, or another innocent cause led to the BAC reading being "artificially high."
Contact Us Today for Help
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we have both the legal expertise and the unwavering determination to fight for and win for you the best possible outcome to your underage DUI case in the Los Angeles Area. We understand how the court systems of Southern California really work at a practical level as well as the specifics of state statutes relevant to underage DUIs.
To learn more or to avail yourself of our services, contact us anytime 24/7 at 424-281-3020 for a free consultation on the details of your case. We will be happy to assist you and will waste no time in getting started on your case.