Drinking and driving is the leading factor in the majority of fatal traffic crashes involving teenagers. If you are the parent of a California teen, our Orange County DUI law firm suggests that you speak often to your child about the hazards of drinking and driving.
No teenager needs a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI). Such a conviction shuts the door to many employment and educational opportunities. Teen drinking can also negatively impact a young person’s health and his or her performance in school.
WHAT ARE CALIFORNIA’S DUI LAWS FOR MINORS?
If you are under 21 and you drive in California, or if your child is under 21 and drives in this state, keep reading. Driving under the influence laws in this state are different for drivers who are minors. California has two laws dealing specifically with underage driving and drinking:
- The “zero tolerance” statute (Vehicle Code 23136) makes it illegal for a minor to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level that measures 0.01 percent or higher.
- A second statute (Vehicle Code 23140) penalizes underage driving with a BAC level that measures 0.05 percent or higher.
An underage driver who is found guilty of violating either statute can have his or her driver’s license suspended for one year. It is not necessary for the driver to be impaired. Merely driving with a BAC level that surpasses the limit is enough to find an underage driver guilty.
A refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test does not help. If you are under 21 and you refuse a breathalyzer test, your driver’s license may also be suspended for one year.
WHAT ARE CALIFORNIA’S OTHER DUI LAWS?
In addition to these two laws that deal directly with underage drinking and driving, a driver under 21 can also be charged with violating the state’s other driving under the influence laws, which include:
- operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol (Vehicle Code 23152[a])
- operating a vehicle with a BAC level at 0.08 percent or higher (Vehicle Code 23152[b])
- operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or “DUID” (Vehicle Code 23152[f])
- causing an injury or injuries while driving under the influence (Vehicle Code 23153)
Unlike the statutes aimed solely at underage drivers, a conviction for any of the four charges listed above may lead to criminal penalties as well as a lengthy driver’s license suspension.
WHAT IS ZERO TOLERANCE?
A person under the age of 21 is not allowed to consume alcohol in the state of California, and it does not matter whether or not that person is driving a motor vehicle. It is a civil (not criminal) offense when anyone under 21 drives with a BAC level at 0.01 percent or higher.
It does not matter if the driver was actually impaired or if the alcohol was part of food or medicine the driver consumed. Any minor who is found to be driving with any trace of alcohol in the blood is in violation of California civil law.
The penalty for a first offense, as mentioned previously, is a one-year driver’s license suspension, but if there are subsequent offenses, the driver’s license may be revoked for two years or longer.
WHAT IS “UNDERAGE” DUI?
California’s “underage” driving under the influence law, as mentioned previously, penalizes persons under 21 who drive with a BAC level that measures 0.05 percent or higher. Violation of this statute is a low-level criminal offense that is legally comparable to a parking ticket.
California minors convicted of underage driving under the influence lose their driver’s licenses for a year, may be fined up to $100 (if it’s a first offense), and if the defendant is under age 18, he or she may be ordered to complete an alcohol education program.
WHAT IF THE CHARGE IS “ADULT” DUI?
A standard driving under the influence charge may be filed against a driver under the age of 21 for either of these reasons:
- His or her ability to drive is impaired by drugs or alcohol.
- Whether impaired or not, the driver measures a BAC level at or above 0.08 percent.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR ADULT DUI?
If there are no injuries, property damage, or other aggravating circumstances, a conviction for adult driving under the influence may be penalized with:
- a driver’s license suspension for a year
- a fine of up to $1,000
- court-ordered alcohol and/or drug education classes
- three to five years on probation
- the possibility of up to six months in jail
Drivers may challenge a driver’s license suspension by requesting a hearing with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. A driver must request that hearing within ten days of an arrest.
HOW SHOULD YOU HANDLE A LICENSE SUSPENSION HEARING?
An experienced DUI defense attorney can represent you at this hearing and contest your driver’s license suspension, but with only ten days to act, you cannot procrastinate about contacting a DUI attorney.
After a one-year driver’s license suspension, a driver may have the license reinstated by filing an SR-22 form to prove financial responsibility and by paying the Department of Motor Vehicles a $125 reissuance fee.
Underage drivers who do not prevail at their DMV hearing may obtain a restricted license to drive to and from work and/or school. However, no restricted license is made available if the license was suspended because the driver refused to take a DUI test.
HOW WILL AN ATTORNEY DEFEND YOU AGAINST A DUI CHARGE?
How can an underage driver defend himself or herself against one of these charges? With the help of a good Orange County DUI attorney, there are a number of defenses that a driver can offer, including but by no means limited to:
- The defendant was not actually driving.
- Police had no probable cause to stop the driver and thus violated his or her rights.
- The officer failed to plainly inform the suspect regarding his or her rights.
- The breathalyzer was defective or the test was administered improperly.
WHAT OTHER RELATED CHARGES CAN UNDERAGE DRIVERS FACE?
Other charges that underage drivers in California frequently face include:
- underage possession of alcohol in a vehicle
- driving while in possession of marijuana
A good DUI lawyer will protect your child’s rights and work diligently to bring the case to its best possible conclusion. If your teenager is charged with DUI in southern California, retain an experienced Orange County DUI attorney immediately. Your child’s future could depend on it.