If you are under 21 years of age and you are convicted of a DUI in California, most of the penalties are the same as they would be for adults. However, you will face a longer license suspension (at least 1 year), and you can face some penalties even in circumstances where adults couldn’t be convicted. This is because of California’s Zero Tolerance policy. This policy penalizes underage drinker from driving with any amount of alcohol in their system, even if it is not enough to count for a normal DUI.
These policies mean that underage drivers face different types of penalties depending in how high their BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is. The normal BAC limit for drivers is .08%—perhaps two or more drinks depending on the individual. For any driver under 21, however, penalties begin at .01% BAC. Even one drink (or less than a full drink) could be enough to cross this limit.
Below, we’ll cover the penalties for every level of underage DUI:
- Penalties for .01% – .05% BAC
- Penalties for .05% – .07% BAC
- Penalties for .08% BAC and above
- Penalties for refusing a breath test
Under 21 Penalties for .01% – .05% BAC
When police pull you over on the suspicion of drink driving, they will typically give you a breath test known as a PAS. This is a roadside test with a small portable device. If you are over 21 you do not have to take this test, but if you are under 21 it is required, and there are consequences if you refuse.
If the PAS test result shows any amount of alcohol, from .01% to .05%, you will not be convicted of a full DUI but you will face penalties:
- An infraction in traffic court, which will involve a fine and possibly points off your license
- Your driver’s license will be referred to the DMV, which will suspend it for 1 year
This is an administrative or “per se” license suspension, and you can request a hearing to fight it. You should have a lawyer represent you at this hearing. The deadline to request a hearing is 30 days from the date of your arrest/infraction.
Under 21 Penalties for .05% – .07% BAC
At this threshold, the state is worried that the alcohol in your system is impairing your driving, even though it would not normally count as impairment for an adult. Penalties include:
- 1 year suspended license, as above;
- A traffic infraction with a fine, as above;
- At least three months in DUI school, a program designed to convince you not to drink and drive; and
- Possibly being ordered into the “Youthful Drunk Driving Visitation Program.” This program is run by the coroner’s office. It id designed to “scare you straight.” You may have to look at graphic images of DUI victims’ injuries and corpses.
You could also be ordered not to drink again until you are 21 years of age. As a court order, this carries extra weight—you will face additional penalties if you are caught with alcohol again before your 21st birthday, whether driving is involved or not.
Penalties for DUI Under 21—.08% BAC and Above
If your BAC tests at the normal “legal limit” of .08% BAC or higher, you will still face the infractions and penalties above, but you will also face standard adult DUI penalties. This is true even if you are younger than 18 years of age.
For a first time DUI, these penalties include:
- At least two days in jail (up to 6 months maximum)
- License suspension (1 year if you are under 21)
- A fine of up to $1,000
- 3 months of DUI school
- 3-5 years of probation
DUIs can also affect both college admission and future job opportunities.
Penalties for Refusing a Breath Test
California law states that all drivers agree to take a breath test, blood test or urine test if they are ever arrested for DUI. For drivers under 21, the law also states that you agree to take a roadside breath test (PAS) if you are simply pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving—even if you have not been arrested yet. If you refuse any of these chemical tests, you will face:
- A minimum 1-year automatic suspension of your driver’s license in all cases
- A longer 2- or 3-year suspension of your license if you are convicted of DUI
Fighting an Underage DUI
California’s DUI laws are among the most severe in the nation, especially when it comes to drivers under 21. While the intention behind these laws is to protect children, the opposite is often the case: the penalties are so onerous that a single mistake can derail a young person’s life. If you, or your son or daughter, face an underage DUI charge, you need to talk to an experienced DUI lawyer and fight your case.
DUI cases can be won several ways:
- Showing that police did not follow procedure or that the traffic stop was illegal
- Disputing whether you truly refused the breath test or not
- Attacking the validity of the breath test results
These and other tactics can be used to whittle down the evidence against you. The result could be keeping your license, avoiding jail time, or even winning your DUI case entirely.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.