Underage DUIs are a growing concern that deserves immediate attention. The issue puts young lives at risk and carries severe legal repercussions. Knowing what the law states and the penalties involved can be vital for your future and driving privileges. In such cases, consulting an experienced attorney can be your first step toward safeguarding your rights.
Overview of Underage DUI Laws
California has implemented a couple of laws to address the issue of underage drinking and driving. These laws are distinct from those that apply to individuals 21 and older and are designed to maintain a stricter approach for underage drivers.
California's zero-tolerance law, outlined in California Vehicle Code § 23136, is critical to the state's efforts to combat underage drinking and driving. This law establishes that individuals under the age of 21 are not permitted to have any measurable amount of alcohol in their system while operating a vehicle. Even a BAC as low as 0.01 is considered unlawful for underage drivers. Importantly, impairment is not a determining factor; any detectable alcohol presence can have legal consequences.
Underage DUI Law
In addition to the zero-tolerance law, California has enacted California Vehicle Code § 23140, specifically addressing Underage DUI. According to this statute, a person under 21 years of age cannot drive with a BAC of 0.05 or higher. This BAC limit differs significantly from the 0.08 threshold that applies to individuals 21 and older.
Arrest Process for Underage Drinking and Driving
The arrest process for an underage individual suspected of DUI typically begins when a law enforcement officer observes erratic driving behaviors or notices something that raises suspicion of violating either the Zero Tolerance or underage DUI law. These behaviors could include swerving, speeding, or other impaired or reckless driving signs.
Upon initiating the stop, the officer may request the underage driver to undergo various tests to assess their level of impairment.
Two common DUI tests that may be administered are:
- Roadside breath test
- Field sobriety test
The results of these tests, combined with the initial suspicion of erratic driving or code violations, provide the officer with probable cause to proceed with the arrest. At this point, the underage individual will be informed that they are under arrest for DUI, and their rights will be read to them, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
Legal Consequences for Violations
If an underage driver violates California's Zero Tolerance law by having a BAC of 0.01 or greater, it is considered a civil offense. The primary consequence is a driver's license suspension for a duration of 1 year. This suspension is a deterrent to underage individuals and emphasizes the seriousness of drinking and driving, even with minimal alcohol in their system.
Underage DUI offenses are infractions. In addition to a driver's license suspension, penalties typically include a $100 fine and enrollment in a 3-month alcohol education program for drivers aged 18 or older. These consequences aim to educate young offenders about the dangers of alcohol-impaired driving and promote responsible behavior.
Differences from Regular DUI Penalties
In contrast, adult DUI penalties for a first-time offense in California are significantly more severe. They can include 96 hours to 6 months in jail, a fine ranging from $390 to $1,000, and a driver's license suspension for 6 months.
While the loss of driving privileges may have a shorter duration than underage DUIs, the other penalties, such as potential jail time and higher fines, are substantially more stringent for adult DUI offenders.
The Role of an Attorney
A defense lawyer is crucial in helping individuals facing underage DUI charges navigate the complex legal processes. They provide invaluable guidance on what to expect during legal proceedings, such as court appearances and administrative hearings related to driver's license suspensions. An attorney can also build a case and work toward a favorable outcome.
To speak with a member of our Los Angeles team, please contact Gold & Witham at (800) 716-6791.