Under CA Vehicle Code 23152, you can be arrested and charged with DUI if you operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or more. Also, exhibiting impairment while driving could result in these charges. California law treats DUI charges for individuals under twenty-one years more severely than individuals who can legally consume alcohol. By adopting the zero-tolerance law, California seeks to prosecute underage drivers who drive with a BAC of 0.01% or higher.

The consequences that accompany a conviction for underage DUI charges are severe and could be enhanced if you are arrested with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05% or more. Penalties for underage DUI may include jail time, fines, and driver's license suspension. If you or a loved one faces an arrest and charges for underage DUI, seeking legal guidance is crucial. We invite you to contact us at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney if you are facing charges for underage DUI in Chula Vista, CA.

Overview of DUI in California

California law makes it an offense to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Due to the increased risk of accidents posed by drunk drivers, DUI is one of the most severely punished criminal offenses. Under California Vehicle Code 23152, you are considered under the influence if your blood alcohol content is 0.08% or more. Also, you could face DUI charges if your driving conduct is impaired by the use of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. An individual under the influence of legally prescribed medications can be charged with DUI if they exhibit impairment while driving.

A prosecutor must prove that you were physically controlling the vehicle to obtain a DUI conviction. If the prosecutor can show that drug use or alcohol consumption affected your ability to drive cautiously, they can convict you under this statute. California drunk driving laws are broad and rules for different types of drivers.

Underage DUI

California law has zero-tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving. Often, an underage driver is any driver under the age of twenty-one years. If there is a significant amount of alcohol in your blood, you could be arrested and charged with underage DUI. The consequences that accompany underage DUI charges may affect your life significantly. Therefore guidance from a DUI attorney is crucial.

If a traffic officer pulls you over for suspected drunk driving, they are legally required to perform a field sobriety test at the place where the vehicle stops. Although adults are not legally required to take the field sobriety test, the exercise is not optional for underage drivers. If you refuse to undergo the sobriety test, you will be subjected to additional tests at the police station. If your blood test proves that your BAC exceeded the legal limit, refusal to take the field sobriety test could result in additional charges.

A field sobriety test is used to establish a probable test before you are taken to the police station, and it precedes a DUI arrest. Some of the tests used for field sobriety include:

  • Breathalyzer test. A portable Breathalyzer device allows the police officer to test your BAC at the DUI stop. Although the Breathalyzer test is not as accurate as the blood test, it gives the officer an overview of your BAC and establishes probable cause to arrest you.
  • Horizontal gaze test. The officer will ask you to focus your gaze on an object and then move it horizontally to check for jerking in your gaze.
  • Stand on one leg test. This test is used to determine your stability, and swaying while standing on one leg could indicate impairment.
  • Walk and turn test. The traffic officer may ask you to take steps in a particular direction. The officer will be checking out for stumbling or fine motor problems.

If the officer finds probable cause to arrest you after the field sobriety test, you will be taken to the police station, where the blood or urine tests could be administered. There is a specific and exact blood alcohol content for an underage DUI conviction. Each person may be affected differently by alcohol use, and the alcohol content may depend upon a driver's weight and medical conditions. When you fail the sobriety test, you may need to provide a blood sample at the police station.

  1. Blood test. The blood test is the most accurate source of blood alcohol concentration for a drunk driving case in California. During the blood test, an official will draw two samples of blood. One sample will be tested for BAC while the other one is kept for records, and your attorney can request retesting if they seek to dispute the accuracy of the first test.
  2. Urine test. Although a urine test is not as accurate as a blood test, it can be used when there is no other option. The urine can store alcohol even when it has left the bloodstream. Therefore, this test can detect high alcohol concentrations.

Police officers cannot force an underage driver to take a chemical test. However, failure to submit to post-arrest DUI tests will result in a one-year mandatory driver's license suspension. After a conviction for underage DUI, you could face additional imprisonment for up to forty-eight hours refusing to take the chemical tests. If you have prior convictions for chemical test refusal, drunk driving, or wet reckless, the Department of Motor Vehicles will revoke your license for two years or more.

Vehicle Code 23136

California Vehicle Code 23136 addresses the zero-tolerance law for underage drivers. If an individual under 21 years drives a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.01% or higher, they can be arrested and charged under this statute. The zero-tolerance law aims to discourage underage drivers from consuming alcohol before operating a vehicle. The zero-tolerance rule applies to not only alcoholic drinks but also prescription and over-the-counter medications.

The prosecutor doesn't need to establish impairment when proving an underage driver's guilt for violating this statute as long as they have a significant blood alcohol content. Violation of Vehicle Code 23136 is a civil offense that attracts a fine of $250 and a one-year driver's license suspension. Additionally, if you are a repeat offender, your license could be suspended for up to three years.

Vehicle Code 23140

California VC 23140 makes it unlawful for a driver under twenty-one years to operate with a BAC of 0.05% or higher. After an arrest for suspected underage DUI, the blood alcohol content is confirmed using the breath and the blood test described above. Under California law, violation of VC 23140 is an infraction that may not lead to imprisonment. However, the offense may attract the following penalties:

  • A one-year driver's license suspension or up to two years if you have a history of DUI offenses
  • A requirement to attend a mandatory alcohol education program for at least eighteen years
  • A fine of up to $100

Actual Impairment

An underage driver can be charged with standard DUI if the law enforcement officer can prove that their BAC is 0.08% or higher. If no one suffers injury due to the drunk driving act, an underage driver who operates with this level of BAC will face misdemeanor charges under California VC 23152(b). The penalties that accompany a conviction for a first standard DUI include:

  • A possible jail sentence of up to six months
  • Three to five years of informal probation. While on probation for DUI, you will be required to follow strict probation conditions. Violation of probation conditions could result in probation revocation and reinstatement of jail time
  • Fines ranging from $390-$1,000
  • Driver's License Suspension for Underage DUI
  • Suspension of your driver's license for one year

The consequences accompanying a conviction for underage DUI may go beyond the license suspension, fines, and probation. Long after the legal penalties, you could face these additional consequences:

  • Ruin your employment chances. When you seek employment, your potential employer is likely to do a background check on you. Often a DUI conviction is a public record, and it can ruin your chances of career development depending on what your employer wants from their employees.
  • Impact your vehicle insurance. When your vehicle insurance provider discovers the underage DUI conviction in your record, they could consider you a high-risk driver. This could prompt an increase in your auto insurance premiums.

Possible Defense Strategies for Underage DUI Charges

The penalties that accompany a DUI conviction are severe and life-changing. Therefore, it would be wise to fight the charges with the guidance of a DUI lawyer. The following are some defense strategies you can explore for your case:

You Were Not Driving

You cannot be liable for a drunk driving offense if there is no proof that you were in actual control of the vehicle. The prosecutor must prove that you were driving under the influence at the underage DUI trial beyond a reasonable doubt. Some of the evidence of your driving could include the arresting officer's testimony, your admission, and traffic cameras. Most crimes are not observed by law enforcement, and the officer arrives when you are already out of the vehicle. Therefore, you can dispute the fact that you were driving the car.

Rising Blood Alcohol

Rising blood alcohol is a defense based on BAC levels continuing to increase even after stopping alcohol consumption. Often, the chemical tests are not administered immediately after pulling over. Therefore, your BAC could have risen rapidly between the time you stop the vehicle and when a blood test is taken at the station. Claiming a rising BAC is enough to create reasonable doubt on the prosecutor's case or convince the prosecutor to accept a plea bargain for a lesser offense like wet or dry reckless'.

Lack of a Probable Cause for Arrest

A police officer must have a certain level of justification to make a traffic stop. For example, before an officer can stop you for suspected drunk driving, they need to have probable cause to believe that you were driving under drug or alcohol influence. The above standards apply to all DUI cases. Unless it is at a sobriety checkpoint, other reasons that an officer can stop you are observing an open alcohol container in the vehicle, the smell of alcohol from the car, or you exhibit reckless driving behavior.

Even after you stop the vehicle, the officer should have probable cause to arrest you, and this could include failing the sobriety test or other apparent signs of intoxication. You could file a motion to suppress evidence if the officer lacked probable cause for a stop or arrest.

Challenging the Results of a DUI Breath Test

It is common for the Breathalyzer device to have errors that could indicate BAC results that do not depict your actual state at the time of the arrest. If you or your loved one faces underage DUI charges solely based on the breath test results, a competent DUI attorney could help you challenge those results as part of your defense. Your attorney can use the provisions set forth under Title 17, which set forth the guidelines that an officer must follow when conducting the chemical tests.

If the proper procedures are not followed, a BAC could be an inaccurate and wrongful conviction. Some of the mandatory requirements under title 17 include:

  • The Breathalyzer device must be in excellent condition at all times
  • The person who conducts the test must have sufficient training to carry out the exercise
  • The machine must be calibrated every ten days
  • The arresting officer must conduct a field sobriety test for at least fifteen minutes before administering the breath test
  • You need to submit at least two samples

If the officers fail to follow the above regulations in your case, your attorney can file a motion to exclude the BAC results. The BAC results are the most substantial piece of evidence in your DUI case. In addition, the absence of these results could create a way for you to seek a plea deal for wet reckless, which is a lesser offense.

Residual Mouth Alcohol

Any detectable alcohol level on an underage driver could result in Underage DUI charges. Therefore, any substance that contains alcohol or foods that can be broken down to alcohol could produce a falsely elevated BAC during a Breathalyzer test. Residual mouth alcohol consists of traces of alcohol in the lining of the mouth. Common causes of residual mouth alcohol could include:

  • Medical conditions such as acid reflux disease
  • Medications like cough syrup
  • Use of mouthwash and breath sprays
  • Dental works that trap consumed foods and liquids

High Protein Diet

Some medical conditions and diets could cause your body to release substances with a similar chemical characteristic as alcohol. For example, when you consume a diet low in carbohydrates and high in proteins, the body will break down stored fats to produce glucose essential for body function. As the body burns fat, it produces ketones which have a similar composition to alcohol.

Excess ketones are excreted through the urine and breath. As a result, the ketones in your breath can be confused with alcohol consumption during the Breathalyzer test.

Challenging a Driver's License Suspension for Underage DUI

Underage drivers have a right to challenge a suspension of their driver's license even after refusing to take the chemical tests. You can contest the license suspension by requesting a DMV hearing within ten days of being cited for Underage DUI charges. The DMV hearing is separate from the DUI criminal case, and the court may invoke a suspension after your conviction. However, you have the right to present evidence, testify on your behalf, and cross-examine the witnesses.

A DMV hearing is less formal and can be carried out through the phone. You can attempt to dispute the claims that you were drunk driving at the hearing. If you win the DMV hearing, the hearing officer will set aside the suspension, and you will retain your driving privileges. Also, winning this hearing increases your chances of a better plea deal in your criminal case.

If you lose the DMV hearing, your driver's license will be suspended or revoked. After a license suspension, an underage driver can seek a restricted hardship allowance to drive to and from work or school. However, it is essential to understand that a restricted license is not available for you if your license was suspended for chemical test refusal.

Additional Standard DUI Charges an Underage Driver Can Face

Apart from the underage DUI and zero tolerance, an underage driver could face some standard DUI charges depending on the circumstances surrounding their drunk driving charges. Additional drunk driving-related charges may include:

DUI Murder

In a severe case where underage drunk driving resulted in the death of a third party, the driver could be charged with DUI murder. Often a drunk driver will face Watson Murder charges if they cause death to more than one person or have received a Watson advisement in their a prior DUI conviction. To obtain a conviction against you for Watson Murder, the prosecution must prove that:

  • You committed an intentional act that resulted in another person's death. In this case, the deliberate act will be your drunk driving conduct
  • The natural consequences of drunk driving were risky to human life
  • You acted with a conscious disregard for human life

Watson murder is a form of second-degree murder, and if you are convicted for the crime, you will face these penalties:

  • A prison sentence not exceeding fifteen years
  • $10,000 in fines
  • A strike on your record under California's Three Strikes Law

Your penalties for DUI murder increase with the number of victims. Facing charges for DUI murder in addition to underage DUI charges can be difficult. Therefore seeking the help of a skilled attorney is crucial.

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

Vehicular manslaughter could arise if an underage drunk driver engages in negligent behavior and causes death to another person. Therefore, before you face a conviction for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under CPC 191.5(a), the prosecution must establish these elements:

  • You drove a car while under drug or alcohol influence. As an underage driver, drunk driving, in this case, will be as a result of violating VC 23140 on operating with a BAC of 0.05% or more.
  • While driving the vehicle, you committed an unlawful act that posed a risk to life
  • You acted with ordinary negligence, which fails to exercise reasonable care or prevent foreseeable harm to others
  • Your negligence caused the victim's death

Violation of PC 191.5(a) is a wobbler. The prosecutor can charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of your case. A felony conviction is punishable by a four-year jail sentence and $10,000 fines. A conviction for a misdemeanor attracts a one-year jail sentence.

Find a DUI Attorney Near Me

California has taken a tough stance when enforcing laws on driving under drug and alcohol influence. With this, a zero-tolerance policy applies when a driver is under the age of twenty-one years. If an underage driver operates with a significant BAC, they could face an arrest and charges for underage DUI under California Vehicle Code 23136. Unlike the standard DUI laws, there is no legal requirement to prove that the driver was impaired. The arrest and conviction will solely be based on the alcohol concentration in their system.

Underage drivers charged with DUI face a wide range of penalties, most of which will affect their driving privileges. Due to the low BAC needed for a conviction, a medical condition or use of substances like mouthwash may raise the BAC. Several factors could impact an underage DUI conviction. Therefore, it is vital to battle the charges with guidance from an aggressive attorney. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we are ready to defend you if you are facing DUI charges in Chula Vista, CA. Call us today at 619-877-6894 and allow us to guide you through the case.