Like the common DUI charges, an underage DUI prohibits drivers from operating a vehicle when drunk. Underage DUI focuses on motorists aged 21 and below. In other words, underage DUI laws prohibit minors from driving or operating a vehicle when intoxicated. Underage DUI laws are strict, and the penalties are more severe than in standard DUI since underage drunk drivers are more dangerous. 

Underage DUI charges can subject you to severe and life-changing penalties, which is why it is essential to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing accusations for this offense. Our DUI attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group in Pasadena have over a decade of collective experience handling DUI cases, and we are ready to diligently pursue your case and defend you.

How is BAC Measured in Underage DUI

Before a conviction under California vehicle code 23152, the police officer must perform several tests to know your system's exact blood alcohol concentration. The authorities will use different test results since people’s reactions to alcohol could be affected by their weight, strength, height, medical conditions, type and amount of food eaten, and alcohol consumed. Some of the most common tests performed to determine BAC:

The Field Sobriety Test 

This is mainly the first test that the arresting officers will use to determine if you are intoxicated. There are various tests included in the FST. For example, the police may ask you to perform either of the following activities:

  • Stand on one leg — This is also referred to as the “one-leg stand test” and is used to determine your physical and mental capability. This test requires you to either:
  • Count 101 to 150
  • Raise one leg off the ground
  • Stay in the same position for about 5 minutes
  • Stare at your feet 

While performing the test, the authorities will be keen to check if you are:

  • Putting your leg down
  • Hoping
  • Using hands to balance
  • Swaying

If you happen to behave in the above-stated manners, the authorities may conclude that you are intoxicated and may carry out other tests to determine if you are intoxicated or not. 

  • The nine-step test — This test is also referred to as the “walk and turn test”, or “DUI walk the line test” and is also performed to check your mental and physical capability. In this test, you are required to do the following activities while following the given instructions carefully:
  • On an imaginary straight line, tiptoe nine steps
  • When pivoting, and
  • Go back to the starting point in the same manner

As you perform the test, the authorities will be looking for different signs to help them determine if you are intoxicated. Some of the signs that could indicate your impairment include:

  • Stepping outside the line
  • Stopping while walking
  • Not touching heel-to-toe
  • Starting earlier
  • Balancing with your arms
  • Not turning correctly
  • Taking less or more steps than instructed
  • The Nystagmus Horizontal Test — The police use this test to check the involuntary eye jerking as you move your eyes in a different direction. The nystagmus is not only involuntary; it also happens unknowingly. Although there are various nystagmus, only a few are caused by alcohol intoxication. When pulled over for DUI, the authorities may request you to follow a stimulus using your eyes, and the stimulus will keep moving from right to left during the test; the police will check if your pupil will showcase “nystagmus”.If your eyes exhibit nystagmus before the angle of 45 degrees, the police may conclude that you are intoxicated. 

Urine Test 

Although this is not the most accurate test, the authorities still use it to test your blood alcohol content, while blood and breath tests are not applicable. The main problem with a urine test is that it can show traces of alcohol consumed for a long time. The bladder can store alcohol consumed for a long time that does not affect your body. This is why most officials are advised not to use a urine test to check blood alcohol content

Blood Test

This is one of the most accurate tests that the authorities use to determine if you are intoxicated. This test gives the exact blood alcohol content present in your body. The police will draw blood from your body and use various capsules to store it to perform this test. The blood in one capsule will be tested immediately while the rest is stored and used as evidence in court. If you have a criminal defense attorney by your side, they can help ask the court to use a blood split motion to carry out a test on the staples stored in the capsules. 

What are the Penalties? 

There are three vehicle codes that control underage DUI and their penalties. These vehicle codes include:

  • California Vehicle code 23152
  • California vehicle code 23136
  • California vehicle 23140 

Vehicle code 23152 — Actual Impairment

If charged with a DUI under this statute, you will face misdemeanor charges, and it applies in two major situations, which include:

  • VC 23152(a), if your driving capability has been affected by your intoxication
  • VC 23152(b), If you were operating a car with a BAC above 0.08 percent

The penalties for actual impairment for underage DUI include:

  • 96-hours detainment in county jail
  • Maximum fines of $1,000
  • Informal probation for five years
  • Enrolment in a DUI school

But if you were driving while intoxicated and you caused other people injuries, and you are below 21 years of age, you are likely to face the following penalties:

  • Reimbursement to the those who sustained injuries
  • Five years probation
  • One year detainment in county jail
  • Enrollment in DUI or alcohol DUI school
  • Maximum fines of $1,000

However, you could be charged with felony DUI if the victims sustained great bodily injuries. If convicted of an underage felony DUI, you are likely to face the following penalties:

  • Four years detainment in state prison
  • Annulment of your driving license
  • You may face additional jail sentences based on the number of victims who sustained injuries.

Vehicle Code 23136 — Zero Tolerance 

Under this statute, it is illegal for a minor below 21 years to drive with a BAC above 0.01 percent. Although this conviction is not considered a criminal offense, it can lead to your driving license suspension. If you were under medication that contained alcohol, your test blood or urine DUI test could turn positive. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you work with an experienced underage DUI attorney to help you protect your rights. 

Penalties under VC 23136

As stated above, a violation of this statute is not considered a criminal offense, but a conviction can attract the following penalties:

  • Three months of enrollment in DUI school
  • License suspension for up to a year
  • Additional license suspension for three years if you refuse to take the chemical DUI test

Vehicle Code 23140 — Underage DUI with blood alcohol concentration above 0.05 percent

This statute makes it illegal for minors to operate vehicles with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.05 percent but lower than 0.08 percent. Even though this statute does not attract jail tie, a defendant can still face the following penalties: 

  • One year license suspension for a first-time offender
  • If you are above eighteen years but below two years, you will be required to enroll in a 30 days mandatory drug and alcohol program
  • A first-time conviction can also attract fines of $100, while a second-time conviction within the same year can attract fines of $200, and $300 for a third conviction

Other Underage DUI Charges 

You may face additional DUI charges if:

  • You were consuming alcohol with a passenger onboard
  • There was alcohol in a container that was found in your vehicle
  • You had used a fake ID to acquire the drugs or alcohol

If the above either of the above is true, you could face aggravated penalties like:

  • Mentioning your Previous DUI Charges when Applying for Work or School — The law states that every minor who has a previous DUI conviction should include their conviction when applying for a new job or school. Failing to do so can lead to you being fired from work or expelled from school. Depending on your school’s policy, you may be ineligible to apply for a scholarship. Note that you can avoid this by filing for a DUI  expungement. 
  • License restriction Once you lose at the DMV hearing, you will likely have your driving license restricted.  The restriction of your driving license is more serious compared to other forms of restrictions. After your license restriction, you are not allowed to drive not unless you do not have another mode of transport, and the court can allow you to only drive to school or work if need be. 

Legal Defenses for Underage DUI

The penalties for underage DUI tend to be more serious and have a significant impact on a minor's life. However, you may be able to fight your charges with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your lawyer will review your case and come up with great defenses to help reduce your charges or have them dismissed. There are two common defenses in a DUI case which include:

  • Challenging the chemical tests
  • Challenging the pullover

Challenging the Chemical Tests

There is a procedure that every test should follow according to the law. For example, for a blood test, there are steps that should be taken from the time the blood samples are collected to when they are tested. Some of these steps are crucial, and if missed, they can give a false reading. Your attorney can review the test procedure and use any defects to fight your charges.

Blood Test Challenges

A blood test is one of the most accurate and reliable tests. However, the test can be faulty at times and give false readings. After blood samples are collected, they are mixed with anticoagulants and other preservatives to help ferment the blood. When blood is fermented, it produces alcohol which can make your blood sample test positive. 

Again, after the staples are collected from your body, they are taken to the laboratory. Since the blood test will pass through the hands of several people, there are measures put into place in the state-run labs to ensure that the sample remains safe and uncontaminated. Each person who handles the blood sample is recorded to ensure they are licensed. If the prosecutor cannot provide a clear record of how and who handles the blood at each stage during the trial, the blood test results may be withdrawn from your case. 

The lab technician should be certified as well as the lab equipment failure to which the test results may be withdrawn. 

Challenging Breath Tests

There are various challenges that may arise from a breath test in DUI cases. For example:

  • Breathalyzers are tuned with delicate sensors that help in determining the amount of alcohol in your body. If the sensors are interfered with, the breathalyzer is likely to give false test results. Your attorney can use the help of an expert to check if the sensors are in good shape and if not, they can use that defense to fight your charges. 
  • The individual using the breathalyzer should be licensed. If the test was performed by a person who was not licensed to do so, the test results might be eliminated from your case. 

What Happens if an Underage Motorist Refuses to Take a Breath Test? 

If you refuse to cooperate in taking the breath test, you risk losing your driving rights for one year. If you had a previous DUI charge where you refused to take the breath test, the one-year license suspension might be increased to two years. 

Note that you can challenge your license suspension after declining a breath test. However, you should do this within the first ten days of your license suspension. This is done by requesting a unit hearing which can be done on call or in person. Below are some of the things that you should do if your suspended license is reinstated:

  • File an SR-22 form whose purpose is to show how you manage your budget
  • Present your financial commitment for the last three years
  • Pay $125 to the DMV

Can I Get a Restricted License after my License Suspension? 

As an underage driver, you could get a restricted/critical use license even after losing at the DMV hearing. This license will allow you to drive to school to work if need be. It is similar to a learner’s permit and is only issued when there is no other available alternative. Note that you can not be issued this license if the reason for your suspension is to deny you to take the chemical test.  

Challenging the Pullover/Stop

Every officer must have a valid reason for stopping a driver on the road. The officer must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that you violated the traffic laws or committed a crime. You might have a strong defense if the police stopped you without a valid reason. Again, if, for instance, the officer pulled you over because they suspected you were driving with a suspended license, then they arrested you because they found liquor in your car, you could still use this as a defense strategy. 

The judge may order any evidence obtained from your car following an illegal stop to be dismissed. This could include:

  • Any statement you had made that was entrapping
  • Results from the chemical test
  • Any evidence found in your vehicle

Other defenses could include:

  • The positive results were caused by a high protein and low carbs diet — If you had consumed food with high proteins and low carbs before your arrest, the meal could lead to a positive breath test. High protein foods make your body produce ketones which have a high alcohol percentage. Ketone can also be present in the body of a person who is fasting or diabetic. You cannot be convicted if the positive results were not from an intoxication but a meal. 
  • Poor driving skills do not indicate DUI The police could have stopped you because you were driving terribly, and they thought you were drunk. However, you can argue that fatigue or lack of sleep was the cause of your bad driving. It is also common for motorists to make driving mistakes when on the road; hence bad driving cannot be used as DUI evidence. 
  • You were not driving the vehicle You can only be charged for DUI if you were actually driving the vehicle. You could argue that you had sat in the driver’s seat to take a nap or to relax because you found the seat more comfortable than the rest. 
  • You had a heartburn or acid reflux — Heartburn and acid reflux can cause the presence of alcohol in your mouth. You can present medical reports to show that you have certain medical conditions that are likely to cause the presence of alcohol in your body. 
  • The test results were affected by environmental factors — You can use this defense if you are charged based on your field sobriety test results. You can argue that the ground was slippery or there wasn’t enough lighting which is why your performance was poor.
  • The DUI test results were within an error margin. There is an error margin that the judge can accept for a blood alcohol content result.
  • The police did not inform you of your rights during the arrest — During an arrest, the police are supposed to inform the defendant of his/her rights by reading to him/her the Miranda rights. Failing to do so may be considered an illegal arrest, and any information or evidence obtained following an illegal arrest may be eliminated from your case. 
  • Being suspected of intoxication does it mean you are guilty — In most cases, the police will state that they arrested you because you had all the signs of being intoxicated. However, you can argue by stating that the signs had been caused by an allergy or lack of sleep. If the officer argues that you also had an alcohol odor, you could state that you had consumed an energy drink, or it was caused by your mouth wash. 

Offenses Related to Underage DUI 

Certain crimes under California law are charged along with or together with underage DUI. These offenses include:

Underage Alcohol Possession in a Car — VC 23224 

This statute prohibits minors below 21 years from possessing alcohol in their car not unless:

  • The young adult is:
    • Accompanied by an adult 
    • Transporting the alcohol to the owner and he/she must have a liquor license, OR
    • On their way to dispose of the alcohol as directed by their parent
  • The alcohol container has the seal on and is unopened. 

This offense is charged as a misdemeanor, and the penalties include a one-year license suspension, fines of $1,000, and vehicle impoundment for 30 days. 

Driving While Smoking or Drinking Alcohol — VC 23221

This statute prohibits motorists from smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol while behind the wheel. A violation of this statute is an infraction that involves paying a minimum fine of $100

Driving with Marijuana in Your Vehicle — VC23222(b)

Underage drivers found in possession of marijuana in their vehicle are likely to face charges under this statute. This law makes it illegal for a driver to possess marijuana that is not in a container or with an open container, or one that has a broken seal. A violation of this statute is an infraction that involves paying fines of $100. 

Find A DUI Attorney Near Me

If you are a minor below 21 years and have been accused of DUI, it is important to reach out to a criminal defense attorney because a DUI conviction can significantly affect your future. An experienced and skilled defense lawyer can help you develop solid defenses to fight your charges and possibly have your case dismissed. We at California Criminal Lawyer Group use a unique and aggressive approach to fight these cases, which is why we have a winning record in the Pasadena area. Call us today at 626-628-0564.