A DUI conviction may influence a person's life at any age. However, an underage DUI arrest and conviction may have a larger impact on an individual's future. If you are under 21 and convicted of a DUI, you may face long-term challenges in finding employment, housing, and education opportunities. If you are under 21 and have been arrested for driving under the influence, it is imperative that you seek legal counsel from a skilled Santa Barbara underage DUI lawyer.
California's Underage Drinking Laws
In California, there are two vehicle codes that outline specific laws for underage drinking and driving: California's Zero Tolerance law and California Vehicle Code 23140, which outlines penalties for underage drivers with a BAC of 0.05 percent or greater. While these two codes pertain specifically to underage drivers, it may be possible for minors to face adult DUI charges.
Specifically, if the consumption of alcohol or drugs directly affected the minor's driving and their BAC was found to be above 0.08 percent, the minor may be charged with a standard DUI. The penalties that a minor may face for a DUI offense are case-specific. For a favorable result, it is best for minors to consult with a skilled criminal defense lawyer. Outlined below are the provisions under each of these vehicle codes and the potential consequences associated with a violation of each.
California's Zero Tolerance Law
In attempts to curb the problem of underage drinking and driving, California enacted its “Zero Tolerance Law” in 1994. Under this law, it makes it illegal for any person under the age of 21 to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01 percent or higher. For comparison, California's adult DUI laws specify a maximum BAC of 0.08 percent.
Since a BAC of 0.01 percent is quite small, it may result from the consumption of non-alcoholic products, such as cough syrup and cold medicine. This means that even if you have not consumed an alcoholic beverage, but your BAC is greater than 0.01 percent, you may face charges if you are pulled over.
Since a violation of California's Zero Tolerance law is not a crime, it is charged as a civil offense. In some cases, the only penalty for violating California's Zero Tolerance law may be a suspension of the defendant's driving license, also known as an administrative “per se” (APS) suspension. If you did not have a driver's license at the time of your arrest—most commonly, because you are too young—you may be issued an APS suspension that may delay your ability to receive a license for one year.
California Laws for Underage Drivers with a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08 Percent
Under California Vehicle Code 23140, it is an infraction for anyone under the age of 21 to drive with a BAC of .05 percent or higher, which is lower than the legal limit—0.08 percent BAC—that adults must uphold. Similar to California's Zero Tolerance Vehicle Code, this code holds drivers under the age of 21 to higher standard than adults. A violation of this code may result in the following penalties:
- A suspension of your driver's license
- A fine of up to $100 for a first offense—this fine may be greater if you have multiple DUI offenses
- Required participation in an alcohol education or counseling program, if you are over 18
- Impoundment of your vehicle for at least five days, if you refused a chemical test or have a prior DUI offense
These are some of the consequences you may face from an underage DUI with a BAC of 0.05 percent. However, potential penalties may be case-specific.
Adult DUI Charges for Minors
If, as a minor, you are pulled over with a BAC of 0.08 or greater, you may be charged with an adult DUI regardless of your age. Specifically, if a minor's BAC is 0.08 percent or greater and their consumption of alcohol impaired their driving and resulted in injuries or damages, they may be more likely to be charged with an adult DUI.
Under California Law, an adult (standard) DUI may be a misdemeanor offense. Some of the penalties a minor may face for a first-time DUI include:
- A suspension of your driver's license
- Up to five years of informal probation
- A fine of up to $1,000
- Required participation in an alcohol or drug education program
- A jail sentence of up to six months
These are some of the penalties a minor may face if they are charged with a standard DUI. However, the penalties may vary depending on factors such as criminal history and any incurred injuries from the accident.
May I Be Charged for an Underage DUI Under Multiple Vehicle Codes?
In accordance with California law, a minor facing DUI charges may not be charged with more than one California DUI offense for the same behavior. For example, if you are under the age of 21 and are pulled over with a BAC of 0.07, you may not be convicted of both a standard DUI and an underage DUI with a BAC of 0.05.
Since California's Zero Tolerance law is a civil offense, it is possible for minors to face consequences under both the Zero Tolerance code and one of California's “criminal” DUI vehicle codes. For example, if a minor is pulled over with a BAC of 0.06, they may face penalties from a citation under the Zero Tolerance code and an infraction for having a BAC greater than 0.05 percent.
While you may not face multiple charges for the same behavior, underage DUI arrests occasionally may result in additional charges for other criminal behaviors. For example, if a minor has an open container of alcohol in their vehicle at the time they are pulled over, that act—in and of itself—is a misdemeanor offense for which they may face charges.
Potential Defenses for an Underage DUI in California
The defense strategy that your lawyer may use varies depending on the specific circumstances of the case. However, some of the most common legal defenses to underage DUIs include:
- You weren't driving at the time of the arrest. If at the time of the arrest, you were pulled over on the side of the road, you might not be found guilty of a DUI. This defense usually pertains to people who are “sleeping off” their intoxication in their car.
- Errors in your breath test. The breath tests used in California for alcohol detection commonly have errors, including improper calibration of the machine and lack of training for the operator.
- Errors in your blood test. Similar to DUI breath tests, blood tests may be subject to errors, including improper drawing and collection of blood, errors in documentation, and blood fermentation.
- Failure of the arresting officer to inform you of your rights. During a DUI arrest, the officer must inform you of your Miranda rights before asking any questions that could be incriminating. Additionally, they must inform you that failure to take a chemical test may result in suspension of your license.
- Unlawful stop and arrest. In order to pull you over for a DUI, an officer must have probable cause. Sometimes, a DUI stop may lack probable cause. For example, if the officer only pulled you over because it was late at night, their arrest lacked reasonable suspicion.
These are just a few of the common defense strategies a criminal defense lawyer may apply to your case. If you are facing an underage DUI charge in Santa Barbara, the best way to ensure that your rights and future are best protected is to consult a skilled underage DUI lawyer.
Consult a Skilled Santa Barbara Underage DUI Lawyer
There is significant room for error in DUI arrests, meaning that your attorney may have several avenues for providing a solid defense in your case. If you are facing underage DUI charges, contact a quality underage DUI lawyer in California.
At the Aron Law Firm, our attorneys have a proven track record of minimizing the penalties associated with underage DUI cases. To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced criminal defense lawyers, call today at (805) 618-1768 or fill out our online contact form.