When it comes to juvenile DUI laws, California has some of the strictest laws in the country. Under the state’s Zero Tolerance policy, detailed under the state Vehicle Code section 23136 (VC), minors can be arrested and charged with drunk driving if they have even the slightest trace of alcohol in their system. If you are a minor charged with driving under the influence or the parent of a teen facing DUI charges, contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
What is the Legal BAC Limit for Minors?
If a minor under the age of 21 is caught driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) above 0.01% in California, they can be charged with a DUI under 23136 (VC). Those with a BAC above 0.05% will face increased penalties.
Is Your License Suspended for an Under 21 DUI in California?
Yes. Always. Under 23136 (VC), if a driver under 18 is charged with a DUI in California, they will lose their license for a full year or until they turn 18, whichever is longer. Drivers over 18 but still under 21 will lose their licenses for one year.
Like adults, juveniles can fight these automatic license suspensions in a hearing with the DMV, but you only have 10 days after the date of the arrest to file for a hearing.
DUI charges are not the only way minors can lose their driver’s license. Those under 21 can also lose their driver’s license for drinking and biking or for having an open alcoholic container in their vehicle.
Can Underage Drivers Get a Restricted License After a DUI Conviction in California?
Technically yes, but it is uncommon. Whereas adults who receive a DUI can often obtain a restricted driver’s license reasonably easily, it is challenging for minors to get these types of licenses unless they can show that they will face significant hardship due to the continued loss of their driver’s license. For example, if a 19-year-old will lose their job and be unable to pay his family’s bills or be forced to drop out of college, he may qualify for a restricted driver’s license. If he could work or attend school online or get a similar job within walking distance of his home though, the court will be less likely to grant him a restricted license.
Even with a legitimate hardship, underage drivers who refused to take a chemical DUI test will be ineligible for a restricted driver’s license.
What are the Penalties for an Underage DUI in California?
While all juveniles who receive DUIs will face a driver’s license suspension, other penalties will vary based on the driver’s BAC. Drivers under 21 with a BAC between 0.01-0.04% will only be subject to a license suspension under 23136 (VC).
Anyone under 21 caught with a BAC between 0.05-0.07% will face increased penalties under Vehicle Code Section 23140 (VC). These cases are infractions, meaning they do not carry any potential jail time, but the charges are still handled by the criminal courts. Aside from the mandatory license suspension, those convicted of 23140 (VC) can also face a fine of up to $100, and drivers over 18 can also be sentenced to take 3 months of DUI Classes.
An underage driver will face all the same DUI sentences as an adult driver if caught with a BAC above 0.08%, only they will be subject to a longer license suspension period. These penalties can include fines of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months of jail time, though jail sentences are rare for first-time offenses.
Non-Criminal Consequences for Underage DUIs
A DUI conviction could have other consequences besides those imposed by the law. While you can still apply for federal financial aid programs with a DUI on your record (though felony offenses may limit your options), many private scholarships automatically reject applicants with criminal backgrounds.
Similarly, while employers are not permitted to blanketly reject job applicants based on previous criminal offenses, they can refuse to hire those convicted of offenses relevant to the position at hand. For example, you cannot drive for Uber or Lyft with a DUI on your record. Similarly, you will be ineligible to join the military without first obtaining a waiver.
These consequences are substantial. If you, or your juvenile child, has been accused of driving under the influence, contact a skilled underage DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Underage Drivers and DUI Traffic Stops
When you are under 21 and pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, you have many of the same rights as adult drivers. They are not required to provide information other than their identity, insurance information, and vehicle registration. They do not need to, and in most cases should not, tell the officer where they were, where they are going, what they have been doing before driving, and if they have been drinking.
If a police officer believes someone is intoxicated, he will likely ask them to submit to a field sobriety test. Because these are highly unreliable, they are not legally required, and drivers should always refuse to take them.
On the other hand, if an underage driver has been asked to take a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS), they must take these, though adults are not legally required to do so. If they refuse, they will face an automatic mandatory driver’s license suspension.
Like all drivers under the state’s implied consent law, they must take a chemical blood or breath test if asked to. Failure to submit to a blood or breath test will also result in a mandatory driver’s license suspension.
Fighting the Charges
You can and should fight underage DUI charges in California. There are many defenses to the charges, but it is always best to speak with an attorney to find the right strategy for your case.
If the main evidence being used by the prosecution is the results of a PAS device, these are always worth fighting because the officer who arrested you will have to show that their device was working properly at the time you were arrested and that they had the qualification to administer such a test. If they cannot prove both of these things, then the evidence will not be admitted into court, which is different from the regular breathalyzer test since it is generally presumed to be valid.
Even if you took a breathalyzer, you can still fight the results as part of your criminal defense strategy, as breath tests can be affected by such things as a fever, a low-carb diet, diet soda, or even diabetes. Challenging your BAC results can be a particularly successful strategy if your BAC was just over .01%, .05%, or .08%, as a small decrease in your BAC could result in your facing drastically reduced penalties or even having the charges dropped altogether.
Underage Drug DUIs
Because there is no legal limit when it comes to using marijuana or other drugs, juveniles accused of driving under the influence of drugs will face the same DUI penalties as adults. If you are over 18 or have a medical marijuana license, this is not a legal defense to driving under the influence of marijuana, and making these statements to a police officer will only be used as evidence against you. Always refuse to answer officer questions without an attorney present.
If you are ready to fight your or your child’s underage DUI charges in San Diego, please call top defense lawyer Peter M. Liss (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.