Los Angeles Underage DUI Lawyer

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Being under the age of 21 and drinking and driving is a deadly combination. Young drivers typically aren’t familiar with assessing their impairment levels and think they are fine to drive even when they are legally impaired. This is why California and the nation treat underage DUIs so seriously. 

The under-age 21 DUI laws are designed to deter drinking and driving among younger adults by imposing significant punishment in under 21 DUIs. The penalties can include up to two years of driver’s license suspension and even jail time. Judges typically look to teach young drivers with a DUI a harsh lesson by handing down severe punishment.

California’s “Zero Tolerance” Law

Any driver under the legal age of 21 cannot have any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood while driving a vehicle. Therefore, if an under 21 driver is pulled over even with .01% BAC, it is considered a DUI and will require severe consequences. For drivers aged 21 and above, the legal limit is .08%BAC, so it is technically legal to have a drink and then get behind the wheel. For under 21 drivers, even a single drink will cause them to be legally impaired and bring about a full DUI charge.

What is An Underage DUI?

An underage DUI refers to anyone being cited for DUI while under the age of 21. The driver does not need to be “impaired.” The driver only needs to show .01% BAC or higher to be charged with a DUI. A person cited for under 21 DUI faces punishment even more strict than for an over 21 DUI driver since the court is specifically looking to teach the young driver a tough lesson. Underage DUIs do not require that the driver be impaired. Any measurable amount of alcohol (.01% BAC and above) will qualify as an underage DUI. If an underage driver suspected of DUI refuses to take a breath test, the result will be an automatic one-year hard driver’s license suspension, without the ability to drive to school or work.

Underage DUI Penalties

.05 BAC or Higher (Vehicle Code § 23140)

Underage DUIs occur often and frequently the young driver has a BAC level of .08% and higher. The court will use the same penalties as they do with a driver who is 21 or older except there are harsher penalties with the underage DUI driver’s license. The license suspension is a year from the DMV and a year from court, on top of all of the other court penalties which can include: probation, jail time, classes, fines, AA meetings, MADD meetings, Hospital and Morgue class, community labor, community service, etc. For example, if an underage DUI driver gets arrested with a .12 BAC level, the court will consider them automatically “impaired” due to the alcohol level and will seek normal DUI penalties, plus additional penalties for being underage.

.08 BAC or Higher (Vehicle Code § 23152)

Underage DUIs occur often and frequently the young driver has a BAC level of .08% and higher. The court will use the same penalties as they do with a driver who is 21 or older except there are harsher penalties with the underage DUI driver’s license. The license suspension is a year from the DMV and a year from court, on top of all of the other court penalties which can include: probation, jail time, classes, fines, AA meetings, MADD meetings, Hospital and Morgue class, community labor, community service, etc. For example, if an underage DUI driver gets arrested with a .12 BAC level, the court will consider them automatically “impaired” due to the alcohol level and will seek normal DUI penalties, plus additional penalties for being underage.

Possession of Alcohol by Person Under 21 (Vehicle Code § 23224)

It is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in any vehicle even if the driver is age 21 and above. However, if a driver is underage, it is illegal to possess ANY alcohol in a vehicle, even if the alcohol is unopened and sealed. If the police pull an “underage” driver over and find alcohol, they will issue a citiation for a misdemeanor. This is a criminal charge that can permanently tarnish the underage driver’s record and they would need to disclose this as a criminal conviction on any application for work, for apartments, etc. The penalty for underage possession of alcohol in a vehicle can range from community service and labor all the way up to six months in jail. However, jail time is unlikely in such scenarios assuming the person has a clean record. Courts can also order fines and classes.

Underage DUI Attorney Defenses

While no one supports underage drinking and driving, there are several useful defenses that can be used to challenge the case and to protect the underage DUI driver’s record. One defense is challenging the reason for the police contact. The police must have valid probable cause to pull over a vehicle meaning the driver must have committed one or more vehicle code violations like speeding or failing to signal. If the reason for the stop is found invalid, the case can be dismissed. 

Another method we use to successfully dismiss underage DUIs is to challenge the breath machine results. An underage driver suspected of DUI is required to blow into a PAS device (Preliminary Alcohol Screening device) which is a small breathalyzer officers generally have in the trunk of their patrol vehicle. When we challenge underage DUIs, we specifically challenge the “PAS coordinator,” or the person who is required to oversee the maintenance of the machine. Oftentimes we find that the breath machines are not maintained properly and the case can be dismissed.

Underage DUI Restricted License Options

In general, any underage DUI driver found guilty by the DMV or court cannot get a license to drive for at least one full year. That means no driving to doctor’s appointments, school, work or anywhere else. While a restricted license is unavailable to underage DUI drivers, there is something called a “critical needs license” that many of our clients are able to get. A critical need license is the equivalent of a restricted license for an underage DUI driver. It allows travel to and from school, DUI classes and work. 

It is not an easy process to get a critical needs application approved, however. The DMV will require that the underage driver demonstrate that they have no other means of transportation and that the public transportation in their area is insufficient. Both the DMV and court have to independently find a “critical need” exists in order for the critical needs license to be granted.

Contact Our Los Angeles Underage DUI Attorneys

We specialize in handling DUI and underage DUI cases. The consequences for an underage DUI can have significant implications for an underage driver’s life and ability to drive. We have successfully handled over 250 underage DUIs and can prevent any criminal conviction in many cases. We can also guide you through the process of attempting to get a critical needs license so you can continue driving. If you find yourself in such a situation, call us to discuss your options, free of charge.

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