A DUI in California is one of the state’s most severely-punished criminal offenses, and a person under the age of twenty-one convicted of a DUI can be charged with multiple serious offenses. The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney has an extensive track record of success defending criminal charges in Los Angeles, with specific experience defending those accused of driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. There are many factors and circumstances involved in a DUI conviction under the California Vehicle Code, which is why it is of paramount importance to hire an aggressive, dedicated attorney who can build your defense to get the minimum possible penalties. This is especially important for anyone under twenty-one facing a DUI conviction because these charges can leave a permanent mark on your criminal record that affects the rest of your life.

DUI in California Law

California law makes it illegal to drink or use drugs and drive. According to the California Vehicle Code Section 23152, a person is legally considered under the influence if they are significantly affected by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

If a person is driving a vehicle with .08% or more, by weight, of alcohol in their blood, then they can be charged with a DUI. For a conviction of driving under the influence in California, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was driving or in physical control of the vehicle in addition to demonstrating that they were under the influence of alcohol at the time. In order to demonstrate that a defendant was under the influence of alcohol, the prosecution can either show that their blood alcohol concentration was at 0.08% or higher at the time of driving or prove that they were impaired by consuming alcohol to the point that they no longer had the mental capacity to control a vehicle like a sober person in the same circumstances.

A person under the influence of any drug, including legally-prescribed and over-the-counter medications if they are demonstrated to impair the driver, can also be charged with a DUI. In the California Vehicle Code, a drug is any substance that is not alcohol that affects the brain, nervous system, or muscles. If the prosecution is able to prove that a drug hindered the defendant’s ability to drive as cautiously as a sober person in similar circumstances, in addition to showing that they were driving or in physical control of a vehicle, then they can convict the defendant of a DUI.

DUI Charges in California for Drivers Under Twenty One

Those who are over eighteen years old who have a blood alcohol content of .08% or more can be convicted of a standard DUI. Additionally, anyone under the legal drinking age of twenty-one who consumes alcohol and drives can face other, additional penalties depending on the quantity of alcohol that is in their blood. A DUI is a very serious offense in any circumstance, but even more so for offenders younger than twenty-one. This conviction goes on a criminal record and can, therefore, affect a person’s future job opportunities, scholarship qualifications, and more.

California Zero Tolerance Law

California’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, found in Vehicle Code 23136, makes it illegal for anyone under age twenty-one to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .01% or higher. The purpose of this law is to discourage any person under twenty-one from consuming any amount of alcohol, no matter how minimal, before operating a vehicle. A conviction of Vehicle Code 23136 incurs fines of up to $250 and a minimum license suspension of one year if the offender has a clean record and a suspension of up to three years if there are prior drunk driving offenses. This offense will not add points to a person’s driving record.

Underage DUI

California Vehicle Code 23140 makes it illegal for a person under the age of twenty-one to drive with a blood alcohol content of .05% or higher. The penalties for this type of DUI are no more serious than the penalties for a Zero Tolerance infraction. A conviction of an Underage DUI is not punishable by time in jail, but it can incur a license suspension lasting one year (or longer if there are any prior infractions on the driver’s record) as well as a fine of up to $300. Any driver between eighteen and twenty-one years of age convicted of an Underage DUI is also required to attend a driver education program lasting three months. Additionally, this offense—like a standard DUI—will add two demerit points to a person’s driving record.

DUI Causing Injury

California Vehicle Code 23153 specifically addresses a situation in which a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs causes physical harm to another individual. Those charged with a DUI of any kind, including the Zero Tolerance policy or Underage DUI, can also be charged under Vehicle Code 23153. This can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on various factors and circumstances, as well as the number of people injured and the gravity of the injuries sustained. A conviction of a DUI Causing Injury can result in heavy fines, time in jail or prison, a probation sentence, mandatory alcohol or drug education programs, a suspended license, registration as a traffic offender, and/or a strike on the offender’s criminal record.

What are Field Sobriety Tests?

If a police officer pulls over a driver for a suspected DUI, they may require the driver to perform one or multiple field sobriety tests in the place where the vehicle is pulled over. Although people over twenty-one are not legally required to comply, field sobriety tests are non-optional for any person below the age of twenty-one. Refusal to comply can result in additional penalties in the event that a blood alcohol content test proves them to be under the influence. Failure of any field sobriety tests means the driver will have to undergo further tests at a testing facility or police station.

Field sobriety tests often precede a DUI arrest and are used to establish probable cause before taking a driver to a testing facility or police station for blood alcohol content tests. The most frequently used field sobriety tests are the breathalyzer test, the stand on one leg test, the horizontal gaze test, and the walk and turn test.

  • Breathalyzer Test: A portable breathalyzer permits police to test a driver’s blood alcohol content during a traffic stop. Although this is often less accurate than a urine or blood test, it can establish the probable cause necessary to take a driver to a facility in order to have their urine or blood tested.
  • Stand on One Leg Test: A police officer will ask a driver to balance on one leg for thirty seconds, taking notice of any hopping, swaying, or rapid movements that indicate impairment.
  • Horizontal Gaze Test: The driver will be asked to focus their gaze on a particular object in the police officer’s hand. The officer will then move that object horizontally, checking for any jerking as the driver’s gaze follows the moving object.
  • Walk and Turn Test: The police officer will ask the driver to take nine heel-to-toe steps toward a particular direction, turn, and return with nine more steps. The officer will look for stumbling or fine motor problems.

What is Blood Alcohol Content?

There are specific and exact blood alcohol concentration requirements for a conviction under the Zero Tolerance policy or Underage DUI in California. Each person is affected differently by alcohol, and blood alcohol content depends upon a person’s height, weight, gender, and medical conditions, as well as the strength and number of drinks consumed, the time period over which they were consumed, and the amount of food the person has eaten. If a driver is pulled over by a police officer and they fail a field sobriety test, they will often be required to give a urine or blood sample in a facility or police station so that their blood alcohol concentration can be determined.

  • Blood Test: This typically has the highest accuracy of any type of blood alcohol content test. During blood tests, an official will draw enough blood to fill two small capsules. One capsule will be tested on the spot for blood alcohol concentration, and the other will be stored. An attorney can request a private examination of that stored capsule with a blood split motion.
  • Urine Test: Although this is less accurate than blood or breath tests, urine tests can be used when other options are not an option. Alcohol can appear in high concentrations in the urine than in the bloodstream, and the bladder can store alcohol that the body has already excreted and that no longer has any impairing effect. California Code of Regulations Title 17 details strict protocols for the collection of a urine sample, though this is generally considered an unreliable method of measuring a person’s blood alcohol concentration.

In California, any person with a .08% blood alcohol content or higher can be charged with a standard DUI, and anyone under twenty-one can be charged with a Zero Tolerance offense if they are even one point above zero and an Underage DUI if they are at .05 or above.

When a person has .08% or more, by weight, of alcohol in their blood, they have consumed enough alcohol to impair their coordination and movements. At a blood alcohol content of .02%, the body begins to feel slightly numb and warm, and at .06%, judgment and perception are impaired. Every individual has a different blood alcohol content affected by height, body weight, and other factors.

You can use an online blood alcohol content calculator to learn more about how alcohol typically affects someone of your gender and body type. Although this is not a completely accurate prediction of your blood alcohol levels, it is good to have an idea of how alcohol might affect you so you can exercise caution before getting behind the wheel.

Penalties for DUIs in California

The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs vary widely in California depending upon the circumstances. This is especially true when the person charged with the DUI is underage because they can receive multiple simultaneous convictions if their blood alcohol concentration is high enough. For example, a person who is over eighteen but under twenty-one with a blood alcohol concentration over .08% can be convicted of a standard DUI, an Underage DUI, and an infraction of the Zero Tolerance Law–all for the same crime.

Possible penalties for a DUI depends on the circumstances, and the primary factor when a judge is deciding between the minimum and maximum possible sentence is the defendant’s number of prior offenses. In the state of California, a DUI charge stays on your record for ten years. A first DUI offense (or the first offense in the last ten years) can incur a fine between $390 to $1,000 in addition to “penalty assessments” that can increase the charge by thousands of dollars, jail time between forty-eight hours and six months, probation, a license suspension of up to a year, and/or completion of a DUI education program lasting between thirty and sixty hours (depending on the offenders blood alcohol content). First-time offenders will often receive informal probation instead of jail time, and this can last as long as five years.

In California, a second DUI is a misdemeanor and penalties include fines in the same amount as a first offense, jail time between ninety-six hours and one year, house arrest, a two-year license suspension, probation, and/or completion of an eighteen- or thirty-month DUI education program (depending on the decision of the judge). A third DUI conviction is also a misdemeanor but carries a longer term of imprisonment and a longer license suspension.

While an Underage DUI and the Zero Tolerance Policy do not result in jail time, they will result in a license suspension between one and three years depending on the motorist’s record as well as fines of up to $250 for the Zero Tolerance Policy and up to $300 for an Underage DUI. These penalties can be added on top of a standard DUI if the offender is over eighteen and has a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or above.

Possible Defenses for a DUI Charge

If you are facing a DUI charge, it is important that you know the common strategies your attorney might use in your defense. When you contact a criminal defense attorney after a DUI, make sure to give them as many details as possible about your arrest so that they can use all the information at their disposal to create the strongest possible defense for your circumstances.

During a DUI arrest in California, a police officer has to tell you your rights before all else. Additionally, they must follow the provisions of Title 17, which regulates how law officials must conduct DUI breath tests, blood tests, and urine tests in order to ensure that testing is as accurate and pure as possible. If an officer fails to comply with the procedures as detailed in Title 17, the results of the test may not be able to be used as evidence in court.

These are common defenses that can be used to fight a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol:

  • The arresting officer did not have sufficient probable cause to make the arrest.
  • The breathalyzer used had not been properly calibrated or maintained.
  • The urine or blood sample was stored in a contaminated container.
  • The urine or blood test was conducted incorrectly.
  • The arresting officer failed to follow the provisions of Title 17.
  • The defendant was not driving the vehicle at the time of the arrest.

It is extremely important that you give your attorney all the minute details of your DUI arrest so that they can determine if Title 17 was violated or if there were any other infractions by law officials that could be used in your defense. If you are underage, it is best to comply with officers if you are pulled over for a suspected DUI, because refusal can result in higher penalties. However, in the event that you are charged with any DUI offense, you need an aggressive and knowledgeable attorney investigating all evidence and fighting for the minimum possible penalty. Otherwise, the judge might decide to impose the maximum sentencing for a minor infraction.

Find a Los Angeles Attorney Specializing in Underage DUIs Near Me

If you are under twenty-one and facing any DUI charge, the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney encourages you to get in touch for a consultation about your case. This is a serious charge that is heavily penalized in the state of California, so it is critical that you have a strong defense prepared by an experienced attorney. Call the Los Angeles criminal lawyer at 424-333-0943 to get help with your DUI case. We are prepared to come to your defense.