Driving under the influence of drug or alcohol is one of the common offenses that underage individuals are arrested and charged for within California. Underage DUI is charged to motorists who are under the age of 21 years who have alcohol in their system. The charge can be complicated since it can be split into a charge of using the drugs or handling and driving a vehicle under the influence of these drugs or alcohol.
If you are charged with Underage DUI in Van Nuys, California, The DUI Defense Attorney can legally represent you and ensure you have the best representation and possibly have your charges reduced or dismissed.
What is Underage DUI?
Underage DUI is when a motorist who is under the age of twenty-one drives or handles a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. This offense is charged under California Vehicle Code 23136. Detection of even a small amount of alcohol in the blood of this group of individuals can lead to civil and criminal punishment besides suspension of their driving licenses.
The state of California has set its minimum drinking age at twenty-one years. However, people under the age of 21 years can drink alcohol in private locations, and when adults are present. The restriction pertains to when someone under 21 years old is driving while intoxicated. This would not be the case if the California 2016 initiative to lower the drinking age to 18 years would have succeeded.
Essentially, the state of California does not tolerate any underage person drinking and driving a vehicle, regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed. This is sometimes known as zero tolerance law, and you can face DUI charges if your blood alcohol content is at least 0.01%.
It is worth noting that a prosecution under the Underage DUI statute does not bar prosecution under other DUI laws (such as VEH 23152 and 23153) or any other statute for those under the age of 21.
What Determines That I May be Drunk Driving?
There exists two main ways that can establish whether you are drunk. A traffic police officer will observe your driving pattern and subject you to field sobriety tests or you may be required to undergo a BAC test.
- Driver impairment
Driver impairment is when the conduct and vehicle handling indicates that the driver is under influence of alcohol or other drugs. This method is used for both adult and underage drivers. Even when your blood alcohol content is within the acceptable range, an officer can still arrest and charge you with DUI if they have a reasonable suspicion that your driving is impaired.
There are a few ways in which a police officer can determine the impairment by observing your behavior. Suspicious behaviors may include:
- Rapid movements from one lane to another,
- Over speeding or driving excessively slow,
- Your hesitation to pass through the green light, and
- Driving in two lanes at once.
When the officer pulls you over, they will check for some apparent signs such as dilated pupils, the smell of alcohol, and slurred speech. You will be asked to take several field sobriety tests before they arrest you. Some of these field tests include balancing your whole body with one leg and walking in a straight line.
- Blood Alcohol Content
The police officer can easily arrest you for drunk driving after you fail the field sobriety tests or when they have the slightest suspicion that you are drunk. This would not be the case if the driver above 21 years – the officer would only arrest the driver if they have a strong belief that the driver’s BAC is at least 0.08%. Nonetheless, you may be required to take some tests to determine your blood alcohol content.
A common BAC test tool is a Breathalyzer. The breath analysis device detects the alcohol content in your blood by analyzing the concentration of alcohol that passes over your air sacs. Still, breathalyzers are affected by environmental factors and the diet of the subject. Thus, the tests are generally considered inaccurate. As such, blood tests are preferred over the breath tests.
A blood test involves extraction of your blood and analysis of the same to determine the level of alcohol in it. The law requires that a blood test can only be done under your consent, meaning that you can refuse to take the test. But refusing to take a BAC blood test should be based on your strong belief that you aren’t intoxicated or the officer followed the wrong procedure including using threats to force you to submit to the test. If you refuse to take the test, you are likely to face more penalties if you are guilty of DUI.
What Are the Consequences of Refusing to Take a BAC Test in Traffic Stops?
In most cases, the issuance of DUI tests is done at traffic stops or after the occurrence of an accident.
If you are involved in an accident, your life and wellbeing will always be of the most significant concern, even if the officer suspects an incidence of DUI. You will be taken to safety to receive medical attention, and your blood alcohol content test will be done afterward. Then, you can get charged for driving under the influence of alcohol if any drugs are found in your blood.
According to the laws of California, once you acquire a valid driver’s license, you automatically give your consent to take sobriety and blood alcohol content tests. Thus, minors who refuse to take alcohol tests when called upon by a police officer in a suspected DUI stop may risk losing their driving licenses for a period of up to three years.
Refusing to take an alcohol test is seen as an admission of DUI charges. You can, however, get charged with a DUI by other factors such as the sobriety test in the case you refuse to take a BAC test.
Other Charges Associated with Underage DUI
If you are a young driver and get arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, you are likely to face other DUI related charges. This is not the case for adult drivers who will only face DUI charges. These related charges include:
- Minor in possession of alcohol
Minor possession laws, which are also known as underage drinking laws, target the sales and public ownership of alcohol by minors. Since the year 1984 when the National Drinking Age Act was passed, the state of California complies with the fact that a person below the age of 21 years should not be drinking and driving.
If you get arrested for underage DUI, additional charges of alcohol possession could also be added to your charge.
- Distribution of alcohol to other minors
In the case where other drunk juveniles are found in your car at the time you get arrested for a DUI, you are likely to be accused of distributing alcohol to minors.
- Possession of false identification
Due to the law that prohibits the sale of alcohol to minors, most underage drivers use fake IDs to purchase the substances. If you are found in possession of a false ID, you can be charged with possession of falsified identification in addition to the DUI charges.
- Soliciting alcohol from an adult
According to the California Penal code Section 303(a) PC, soliciting to purchase alcohol, minors are not allowed to purchase alcohol or be seen loitering around a premise that sells alcohol. If you happen to get arrested for DUI and it is known you were soliciting at a business that sells alcohol, the prosecutor is likely to charge you of this crime as well.
What Are The Penalties For Underage DUI?
The penalties for driving under the influence for underage drivers could significantly differ from one individual to another. Generally, younger teenagers are given lesser punishments compared to those below twenty-one but over eighteen years of age.
Also, the blood alcohol content determines the severity of the charges; the higher the BAC, the heftier the punishment.
The penalties to underage drivers convicted with DUI include:
- Fines: To avoid going to jail, you may have to pay a fine ranging from $100 to $2500 in court to get released if you are arrested and accused of driving under the Influence of drugs or alcohol;
- Probation and Community Service: probation is similar to a sentence but outside of prison or jail. Underage DUI could attract a probation sentence of between three and five years. The teenager will be under constant supervision and will frequently report to the probation officer to monitor their progress. When you are on probation, you could also get community service where you have to volunteer in a community program for a given period as part of your punishment;
Suspension or Loss of Driver’s License: A DUI conviction risks losing or suspension of your driver’s license for up to one year. During this period, you are not allowed to operate any vehicle, failure to which you may receive additional penalties for driving on a suspended license;
After the suspension period is over, the license is reinstated, but you will always be under the constant supervision of the court. The judge will, in most cases, order the installation of an ignition interlock device on the car you frequently drive. The court will require you to cover all installation expenses including the average daily fees of 2.25 dollars.
Teens caught up in DUI charges could also be denied hardship licenses, hence, can only drive their vehicles in the areas specified by the court;
- Compulsory Alcohol Education: If you are faced with DUI charges, you will have to undergo alcohol education given by a treatment professional. These classes charge up to $ 600. The classes will ensure that you know the consequences of alcohol consumption and driving under the alcohol influence;
- Serving Jail Time: Most DUI cases end up with loss of driver’s license, fines, compulsory alcohol education, and probation. However, if you have a record of the same offense in the past, or your drunk driving has resulted in a fatality, then a jail sentence is given, and it ranges from 3-5 years.
Other than the penalties that are listed above, an underage DUI offender may be required to take part in a Youth Drunk Driver Program. This program runs on the assumption that:
- People who are involved in the use of drugs and alcohol at a young age are more likely to become addicts in the future,
- A conviction for DUI during the adolescent years may lead to a future of poor decisions when it comes to drinking and driving, and;
- Underage drivers may not be aware of the consequences of drunk driving.
This program shows the real results of drunk driving to young offenders by taking them to visit patients in ICU, the people who died of reckless driving and those who lost vital parts of their bodies because of the same.
In addition to those legal consequences, DUI charges can have adverse long term effects on your life. These consequences include:
- Some schools give extra punishment or expulsions for their students who are arrested driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol;
- In the future during job seeking, DUI charges may show up on the background check done by a potential employer. The DUI record may dim the individual's chances of getting the job, and;
- Getting into college and acquiring scholarships may be quite difficult for you if you have a previous history of DUI.
Defenses Against Underage DUI in California
California laws for underage drinking and driving could be highly technical. However, getting arrested for DUI does not mean that you will be convicted. You can avoid the negative California DUI penalties including license suspensions and hefty fines through the following defenses:
Being suspected of intoxication is not similar to being guilty of DUI
An excellent method of fighting DUI charges in California is by challenging the use of physical symptoms of being drunk by the prosecutor as proof that you were drunk.
The officer who arrested you is likely to testify that you were intoxicated depending on your physical symptoms such as red and watery eyes and flushed face. You can argue that the symptoms were related to allergies or fatigue.
Also, your DUI attorney can elicit testimony that the alcohol odor in your breath was caused by a particular food you consumed. This is particularly relevant in cases where the officer arrested you on the basis that you had an alcohol-like mouth smell.
Lousy Driving is not Equal to DUI
You can fight the DUI charges by merely saying that you were only driving poorly, but you weren’t under the influence of alcohol. This argument is a great defense mechanism if you are charged with ‘driving under the influence’ under vehicle code 23152 (a).
Your lawyer can try to dismiss the testimony by the arresting officer and claim that sober people commit most of the traffic offenses, hence, the driving pattern is not reliable evidence of DUI.
Alcohol present in the mouth could have led to a high BAC Result
Traffic police mainly arrest an Underage driver whose blood alcohol content is greater than or equal to 0.01%. False high BAC could be ground for legal defense by arguing that the readings were as a result of food you had earlier consumed or mouthwash.
Presence of a medical condition such as diabetes mellitus can contribute to the detection of a high percentage of alcohol in your breath. Arguing that other factors besides consumption of alcohol influenced the BAC tests will help your case seem lighter.
Failing field Sobriety tests cannot accurately determine one’s impairment
If you get DUI charges in California, the prosecutor will use the results of field sobriety tests to show that you were driving under alcohol influence. Such tests include recounting the alphabet, one-leg standing, and walking in a straight line. Your attorney will explain that coordination and balance can be affected by the nature of your clothing, nervousness, and fatigue.
The officer did not conduct a proper observation
According to California laws, the arresting officer is supposed to observe you for 15 minutes before asking you to take a breath test. Many officers often don’t take the time to do the observation. Thus, showing that this observation was not done can help in the dismissal of your charges.
The arresting officer did not follow proper procedures during the arrest
Failure of the arresting police to follow correct procedures when arresting you is a dominant defense against the charges. A drunk driving investigation is supposed to be carried out under specific regulations. If any rule is broken, your lawyer can request a suppression hearing.
Finding a DUI Defense Attorney Near Me
Besides the legal penalties that you will face and the financial burden that may follow, Underage DUI charges can cause life-changing consequences. With proper legal representation and help from an experienced lawyer, the DUI charges may be dismissed, or your sentence could be less severe.
Fortunately for you, The DUI Defense Attorney in Van Nuys, California is ready to give you the advice and representation you need to get out of the DUI charges on lighter terms. We will utilize the above defense strategies to your advantage. Contact us today at 818-253-1913 and let our qualified lawyers take charge of your case.