A substantial number of DUI arrests involve drivers under the age of 21. Since these drivers aren’t legally of age to consume alcohol, they may face more penalties than an adult drunk driver. And the state of California defines DUI differently for those who aren’t of age. This makes underage DUI cases complicated and serious.
The short answer is: if you are under 21 and get a DUI in California, you are still liable for all the same criminal penalties as an adult.
You are likely to face additional penalties as well, and a DUI conviction can affect both your acceptance to college and your future career.
California’s “Zero Tolerance” Underage DUI Law
Normally, to be guilty of a DUI in California your blood alcohol content (BAC) must be at least 0.08%. This is not the case for drivers under 21. Instead, if you have any alcohol in your system at all, you will face charges. This is California’s “Zero Tolerance” law.
But that’s only the beginning. California has set a variety of thresholds for underage drunk drivers, with penalties that get worse depending on your BAC. The complete list of these violations includes:
- BAC of 0.01% or greater. This is the “zero tolerance” policy at work. If found guilty, you will lose your license for one year. This charge does not count as a criminal DUI charge, however, and you will not face jail time or have a DUI on your record.
- BAC of 0.05% or greater. If you were 21+ this would not count as DUI at all. But for underage drinkers, it does, which is why it’s known as the “Underage DUI” law. This is a criminal charge and puts a DUI on your record. You won’t face jail time, but you will lose your license for one year, pay a $100 fine, and be required to attend (and pay for) a three month DUI course.
- BAC of 0.08% or greater. This is the same DUI law that applies to adults, and an underage drinker can face the full range of criminal charges. This includes thousands of dollars of fines and court fees, up to six months in jail or juvenile custody, a three to nine month DUI course, suspension of your driver’s license, and years of probation.
- Impaired driving. DUI law does not always depend on blood alcohol content. If you were swerving or driving dangerously because of alcohol, this counts as a DUI charge on its own. The penalties are identical to those for a BAC of 0.08+
Unfortunately, as an underage drunk driver you can be charged with more than one of the violations above. For example, if your BAC was 0.06% and you were weaving, you’ve effectively violated three different rules—the Zero Tolerance law (0.01% or more), the Underage DUI law (0.05% or more) and Impaired Driving. The arresting officers will charge you with all of the violations that apply, stacking up the penalties as high as possible.
Even if they do this, the entire arrest will only count as one DUI on your record. But the repercussions can be serious. They can amount to years with no license, exorbitant fines and fees, and a black mark on your record as you are just starting out in life. This is why it’s so important to have a DUI lawyer help whittle the charges down and fight for you in court.
In addition, you may be charged with underage drinking, and/or and possession of an open container in a vehicle (if applicable). Both of these have their own separate penalties.
DUI, College, and Getting a Job
In some ways the worst part of an underage DUI is not the criminal penalty at all but the long-term effects. For example:
- Colleges are allowed to ask about your criminal history on admissions applications. You are required to disclose your DUI when applying. They may take this into consideration and deny your acceptance because of it. (This applies only to the actual criminal convictions for DUI: 0.05% or more, 0.08% or more, and impaired driving.)
- Employers also ask about criminal history. Again, you are required to disclose. You may be passed over for a position based on your DUI.
Beating an Underage DUI Charge
It is possible to beat a DUI charge, even if you’re underage. DUI lawyers have many tactics to choose from. They may be able to throw out blood or breath test evidence, or question whether it was legal for police to pull you over in the first place. These are approaches that routinely lead to DUI charges being dropped, or deals being offered, to drivers of all ages.
You also have youth on your side. A skilled DUI lawyer will make a case to the District Attorney that your crime was a single, foolish mistake. In some cases, the DA will consider dropping or reducing the charges simply so that they do not derail your life at a young age.
None of these outcomes can be guaranteed. But DUI lawyers have a high success rate in helping underage defendants. Our site exists to put you in touch with a qualified DUI lawyer near you. Fill out the form to the right and get a free evaluation from a top DUI lawyer today.