If you’re under the age of 21, federal law prohibits you from purchasing or consuming alcohol in any capacity. Despite strict enforcement of these rules, it is still common for young people to obtain alcohol illegally. To address underage alcohol use and prioritize the safety of America's youth on the roads, the state has implemented a zero-tolerance policy for both underage alcohol consumption and driving.

Seeking and engaging the services of an experienced DUI attorney is crucial if you or a loved one is facing charges for underage DUI. At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we aim to assist you in understanding your charges and guide you through the legal process. We are dedicated to helping you develop a solid defense strategy. Our expertise extends to clients in Monterey, California who require advice and legal representation to contest underage DUI charges.

Overview of California Underage DUI

Teens and young adults are more likely to lose their lives in traffic accidents than for any other reason. While there are multiple factors contributing to these collisions, driving while under the influence and driving underage are two of the most typical ones. As a result, California has implemented stricter rules to prohibit individuals under the age of 21 from drunk driving.

An underage driver may face prosecution for DUI under several laws, including:

Zero Tolerance Rule

According to California VEH 23136, it’s illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to operate an automobile with a blood alcohol content of .01% or higher. The zero-tolerance rule applies to any beverage that has the potential to raise your blood alcohol content to .01% or above.

The preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test is used to determine the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) under the relevant statute. This test utilizes a Breathalyzer, which converts the alcoholic content in your breath into a breath alcohol concentration equivalent. According to California DUI legislation, all juvenile drivers are required to take the PAS exam, as it helps law enforcement identify driving impairment. Typically, traffic police will observe your driving behavior as evidence of probable cause before pulling you over for driving under the influence.

Violations of California VEH 23136 are not considered crimes. One consequence of this violation is a one-year license suspension. However, if you have a history of DUI convictions and are a repeat perpetrator, your driver’s license suspension could be extended to 2 or even 3 years.

Underage Motorists With BAC Levels OF 0.05% Or More

A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05% or more is illegal for juvenile motorists to operate a vehicle in California, according to VC 23140. If law enforcement pulls over an underage motorist and they fail the field sobriety tests, they will be subjected to a Breathalyzer to specify the alcohol level in his or her breath. The rule of implied consent mandates that you must submit to a mandatory blood test upon being apprehended and taken to the law enforcement station.

Although you have the option to choose between a blood test and a breathalyzer test, there are instances in which law enforcement may require you to take a blood test. Some of these instances include:

  • There is a strong possibility that you were under the influence of alcoholic beverages and other substances
  • You're unconscious
  • The Breathalyzer isn't accessible at the medical facility
  • You’re too drunk to take the Breathalyzer test

Even though breaking VEH 23140 might not lead to imprisonment, you could still be subject to the following consequences:

  • First-time offenders may face a driver's license suspension of up to one year, while repeat offenders may face even longer suspensions.
  • Fines not exceeding $250
  • If you’re 18 years of age or older, you have to participate in an alcohol education program

Actual Impairment

Under California VC 23152, there are circumstances in which juvenile drivers can be charged with basic DUI. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) was .08% or above during the DUI checkpoint stop, you can be charged with typical DUI offenses as a minor driver.

Underage DUI convictions for the first time carry the following penalties:

  • A 1-year suspension of your driver’s license
  • $1,000 in fines
  • A three to nine-month course on alcohol education
  • A maximum sentence of six months in jail

Probation for a Misdemeanor DUI

Probation is offered as an option to a 6-month jail term for DUI convictions. In this situation, probation typically lasts for 3 to 5 years. However, not all defendants are qualified for probation terms. For first-time DUI offenders without aggravating circumstances in their DUI charge, the prosecution often suggests probation as a favorable option.

If you are charged with a regular DUI as a minor driver, you need to get in touch with an experienced DUI defense lawyer. The court would mandate that you pay your fines and submit to random drug and alcohol testing while you are on probation for DUI.

DMV Hearings

One of the most significant effects of a DUI conviction is the immediate suspension of your driver's license. If you are facing underage DUI allegations, you may face the suspension of two different forms of your driver's license. The court-triggered license suspension takes effect once you are convicted of an underage DUI crime. Additionally, the moment the prosecution brings DUI allegations against you, the DMV suspension begins.

To contest the license suspension resulting from your DUI arrest, it is crucial to set up a hearing with the DMV within ten days. Note that the DMV hearings are separate from criminal court cases and provide a less formal setting. During this hearing, you will have the opportunity to:

  • Bring witnesses, defense attorneys, and the arresting officer
  • Examine and take note of the evidence that has been presented against you
  • Provide testimony in your defense
  • Examine the prosecution's witnesses in cross-examination

If you prevail in the hearing, the DMV will lift the suspension, enabling you to continue driving while awaiting the resolution of your criminal case. It's important to note that winning the DMV hearing can positively impact your DUI criminal case, even if the DMV hearings and court cases are separate proceedings.

On the other hand, if you lose your hearing, your driver’s license will be automatically suspended. However, you can appeal the judgment of the DMV officer by submitting a written request within 15 days. You will also have to pay a $120 charge. Additionally, you have the option to apply for a restricted driver’s license.

A restricted license could be available to a minor driver whose license is suspended after losing their DMV hearing. This restricted driver's license allows individuals to drive only to specific locations, like school or work. However, this kind of driver’s license cannot be obtained if your license was suspended due to refusing to comply with chemical testing.

Consequences For California Underage DUI

License suspension, probation, and fines are not the only negative effects of underage DUI. Even after you’ve finished your legal sentence, the following repercussions from an underage DUI will continue to have a lasting impact on your life:

Trouble Securing A Job

A California DUI felony conviction is considered public information. When applying for jobs, it’s necessary to disclose any conviction for underage driving in the criminal history section. Failing to reveal your prior conviction can harm your reputation and make it difficult for many young individuals to find fulfilling employment. It's important to note that employers have the right to terminate your employment if they discover, through a background check, that you have not disclosed your conviction.

Affects Your Insurance Premiums

If you are found guilty of underage DUI, the justice system will notify both the DMV and your auto insurance company. As a result, your auto insurance rates may increase, as you will be viewed as a high-risk driver. In some cases, your insurer may even choose to cancel your policy, leaving you in need of a new insurance provider.

Adverse Impacts On College Applications

You are required to disclose all of your offenses, such as underage DUI, on your college application. DUIs are generally viewed as careless actions and could potentially be used as grounds for rejecting your application to the educational institute of your choice. It is also worth mentioning that even if you are admitted to college, there is a possibility of being denied scholarships, opportunities, or any financial aid due to your past offenses.

Having an underage DUI conviction on your record could hinder your ability to pursue certain degrees and may also result in college rejection if you fail to disclose it during the application process.

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Testing

If you are underage and driving, your BAC (blood alcohol content) may be calculated using a breath or blood test. In certain circumstances, a urine test may also be considered. Drivers under 21 are obligated to undergo a preliminary alcohol screening test, commonly known as the roadside breath test or PAS (preliminary alcohol screening). In California, minors suspected of drinking and driving are required to undergo a PAS test to measure their BAC.

The purpose of a PAS (Preliminary Alcohol Screening) is to calculate the amount of alcohol in a driver's breath and convert it into an equivalent blood alcohol content through mathematical calculations. For drivers under the age of 21, refusing a PAS test is equivalent to refusing a chemical test.

Traffic law enforcement officers rely on the PAS test when determining whether to apprehend motorists under 21 for driving under the influence. This test serves as the primary sobriety field test for minors. Therefore, any motorist under the age of 21 who refuses to take a PAS test risks having their license suspended, regardless of the outcome of their DUI trial.

Drivers older than 21 are not legally required to take a PAS exam. However, according to California law, if you are lawfully arrested for DUI, you must take either a post-arrest or an evidential DUI test. This requirement remains in place even if you have already undergone a PAS exam. Law enforcement officials are obligated to administer this test following a DUI arrest. An evidential breath test is typically conducted.

This test is commonly administered at the police station using a desktop computer or at a DUI checkpoint. During a DUI checkpoint, law enforcement utilizes a mobile police unit to conduct the test. Preliminary alcohol tests at the scene are often carried out as part of traffic stops or DUI investigations.

When given the choice between a blood test and a breath test, the majority of drivers choose to take the breath test. This is because a breath test is less intrusive and provides quick results compared to a blood test. However, it's worth noting that some drivers, especially those with respiratory issues like asthma, may dislike a DUI breathalyzer test.

The police may test the driver's blood under the following circumstances:

  • If the driver is unconscious or deceased, the police may opt to conduct a blood test instead of a breathalyzer test
  • If a minor driver is admitted to a hospital without undergoing a breathalyzer test, the police may conduct a DUI blood test.

When it is challenging to determine drug intoxication through a breathalyzer test and there is no doubt that the motorist is under the influence of drugs, the authorities may opt for a DUI blood test in cases of suspected drug use.

Defenses Against Charges of Underage DUI

Conviction for underage DUI carries severe penalties. Even if you are a minor, you have the option to fight the charges. An experienced DUI lawyer can challenge the evidence submitted against you and provide various justifications for your actions. The defense strategies for combating an underage DUI typically involve seeking to have the charges dropped, reducing the punishment, or negotiating a plea agreement for a lesser offense.

The following potential legal defenses can be used to counter claims of California underage DUI:

You Were Not Operating the Vehicle

To prove that you are guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, the prosecution needs to establish that you were the driver. However, if there is not enough evidence to support your role as the driver, then you cannot be held accountable for the DUI offense. According to California DUI laws, operating a car implies voluntary movement, and the distance driven is not critical in this matter. Therefore, if the prosecutor cannot demonstrate that you were the driver of the car, you can’t be found guilty of an underage DUI offense.

Lack of Reasonable Cause for Initiating the Arrest

California police can only authorize a traffic stop if they have reasonable suspicions or probable cause to believe that the driver is intoxicated. You cannot be pulled over by an officer and have your DUI investigated without specific evidence that convinces them of your involvement in criminal activity, such as driving while inebriated. Sobriety checkpoints do not rely on the concept of probable cause.

A DUI investigation and vehicle stop alone are not sufficient to warrant an arrest. A probable cause is necessary. There are specific details that establish probable cause for the arrest in cases of California underage DUI. Some of these details include:

  • Physical indicators of intoxication include slurred speech, impaired coordination, bloodshot eyes, flushed face, unsteady gait, and slowed reaction time, to name a few
  • A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0. 01% on the PAS test
  • Ineffectiveness on the field sobriety tests

If you could demonstrate that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to pull you or your car over and apprehend you for driving under the influence, you would have the opportunity to contest your underage DUI accusations.

Challenge the Reliability of Chemical Tests

When it comes to cases involving teenage DUI allegations, blood testing and PAS tests play crucial roles as parts of the evidence. If you could successfully challenge the accuracy of the chemical testing results, you may have a better chance of avoiding conviction under VEH 23136 or VEH 23140. It is important to note that inaccurate breath tests often result in misleading BAC readings and subsequent DUI accusations.

You have the option to utilize the procedures outlined in California Code of Regulations Title 17 to challenge the results of the breath test, with the support of a knowledgeable DUI attorney. This provision of the California law establishes the guidelines that traffic officers need to follow when conducting DUI breathalyzer tests and handling sample processing. Failure to adhere to these protocols can render the test results unreliable and inadmissible in DUI prosecutions, potentially undermining their validity.

The following are some prerequisites for breathalyzer testing in cases of underage DUIs:

  • The Breathalyzer apparatus used for these tests needs to be calibrated and in excellent operating order every 10 days or after testing one hundred and fifty motorists
  • The individuals conducting the breathalyzer test need to undergo proper training to ensure accurate and reliable results
  • Before proceeding with the breath test, the officer is required to conduct a 15-minute FST

During a DUI prosecution, your attorney has the option to submit a court motion to exclude any incorrect test findings. If the court jury grants this motion, the allegations could be dropped. Alternatively, your lawyer may negotiate a plea agreement for a lesser crime, such as reckless driving, resulting in a less serious conviction.

Provide An Alternative Analysis For Your High BAC Level

The defense of residual alcoholic content from the mouth is frequently used in DUI cases. The Breathalyzer is known to detect residual alcohol in the mouth, which can be caused by taking certain foods, chewing tobacco, and certain medical disorders such as diabetes.

Blood alcohol content (BAC) should not be confused with the presence of alcohol in the mouth. Hence, it is possible to argue that a high BAC could have been caused by factors other than drinking to refute the allegations of underage DUI.

Crimes Associated with California Underage DUI

Depending on the details of the incident, an underage motorist may face charges for various DUI-related offenses, in addition to zero tolerance or convictions for underage DUI.

Alcohol Possession By Underage Persons In A Vehicle

It is illegal for anyone under the age of twenty-one to be in possession of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle in California (VC 23224). However, there are a few exceptions to this regulation. You’ll not be found guilty of driving while inebriated while underage if:

  • You have a parent or another responsible adult in the automobile
  • You meant to get rid of the alcohol according to an adult's or parent's directions
  • You were arrested while carrying the alcoholic beverage because it is part of your job responsibilities

If you are arrested for underage DUI and the arresting law enforcement officer discovers alcohol in your automobile, you could potentially face charges for both possession of alcohol in the vehicle and underage DUI. A conviction for a misdemeanor under VC 23224 carries a maximum one-year prison sentence and fines of up to $1, 000.

Watson Murder

When an offender causes a fatal accident while operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol and has a prior DUI conviction, it is charged as second-degree murder. The prosecution may press charges for DUI murder and underage DUI. To convict someone of DUI murder, the prosecution has to establish each of the following components beyond any reasonable doubt:

  • In this instance, the deliberate conduct in which you got involved resulted in the tragic consequence of another person's death due to drunk driving
  • Your actions deliberately disregarded the safety of others
  • The unintended result of your actions has put human lives at risk

A DUI murder conviction does not require the victim to have the intention to kill. DUI murder is classified as a serious felony, carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years to life behind bars, along with fines of up to $10, 000. It’s worth noting that under California's Three Strikes Law, DUI murder is considered a strike offense.

Find a Monterey Criminal Defense Law Firm Near Me

If you are charged with underage DUI, your driver's license could be suspended by the DMV for a year. Therefore, you should consider engaging a professional lawyer as soon as possible following your arrest. A lawyer will represent you in court and at the DMV hearing if your case goes to trial. Our team of experts at the Monterey Criminal Attorney is dedicated to providing the finest legal assistance for underage DUI cases. We are here to support you and your loved ones throughout the entire process. Call us today at 831-574-1791.