In California, underage drivers arrested for driving under the influence face more severe penalties than adult drivers. Under California laws, underage driving violates not only DUI laws but also alcohol consumption. That's why there are severe penalties associated with this offense.

If arrested for underage DUI, you should seek an attorney’s help to increase your chances of achieving a favorable outcome in your DUI charges. For example, having the charges reduced or lowered. Contact the Bakersfield DUI Attorneys for help with your underage DUI charges. 

California Underage DUI Laws and their Penalties

Specific laws are associated with drunk driving in California. These laws mainly depend on the BAC levels of the underage offender. Other determining factors of the consequences you face for underage DUI include your drunk driving history, the type of drugs involved, or if you failed to participate in a breath test voluntarily.

  1. Vehicle Code 23136 – California Zero Tolerance Law

Vehicle Code 23136 is a Zero tolerance law that juvenile underage drivers are required to obey. VC 23136 prohibits motorists below 21 years from driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.01% or higher. A 0.01% BAC seems low, but drinking one bottle of beer or glass of wine could raise your BAC to 0.01 or above, depending on your weight and height.

You could also have a 0.01 BAC or above after consuming beverages containing alcohol. Note that this law applies whether the underage driver appears impaired or not. Simply put, as an underage driver, you violate Vehicle Code 23136 by having any measurable alcohol in your blood.

Penalties for Violation of Vehicle Code 23136

In California, violating Vehicle Code 23126 is not serious. The only punishment for violating this statute is a mandatory suspension of your driver's license. The suspension length is one year for a first offender. If you have a history of violating any of California's DUI laws, you can have your license suspended for two or three years. 

  1. Vehicle Code 23140 - Underage Driving with a BAC of 0.05% or Higher

Under California VC 23140, it is unlawful for a person below 21 years to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.05% or above. DUI officers confirm whether your BAC level is 0.05% or higher through a post-arrest DUI breath or blood test.

Penalties for Underage Driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.05% or Above

Violation of Vehicle Code 23140 is an infraction. It does not lead to a jail sentence but attracts the following penalties:

  • Suspension of your license if you are a first offender
  • A fine of up to $100 for the first offense
  • Mandatory attendance to an alcohol education program for three months or more if you are 18 years old
  1. Vehicle Code 23152 – Standard DUI

Under Vehicle Code 23152, it is an offense to drive with a blood alcohol content level of 0.08% or more. This statute also makes it a crime for anyone to drive while impaired due to alcohol or drugs.

Penalties for Standard DUI

Violating VC 23152  is a California misdemeanor. Potential penalties as a first-time offender include:

  • Suspension of your license for one year
  • Summary probation for a maximum of five years
  • A fine of between $390 to $1,000
  • Mandatory attendance to three or nine months of an alcohol or drug education program
  • A maximum county jail sentence that lasts for six months, although in rare cases

Other Adult DUI Offenses Charged to Underage Drivers

Apart from Vehicle Code 23152, there are other charges related to underage DUI. These charges are as follows. 

  1. Vehicle Code 23153 – DUI Causing Injury

Under Vehicle Code 23153, it is unlawful to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and drugs and causing bodily injury to another person. This statute is divided into:

  • Vehicle Code 23153(a). It punishes any driver who causes bodily injury to another person, regardless of the BAC level recorded.
  • Vehicle Code 23135(b). It prosecutes a driver with a BAC of 0.08% or above who causes bodily injury to another person.

Penalties for DUI that Causes Injuries

The consequences of violating Vehicle Code 23125 vary greatly depending on factors like:

  • Your case's facts
  • Whether it is a second or subsequent DUI within ten years for your previous

Violating this statute is a wobbler, meaning that you can face a misdemeanor or felony based on the stated factors. Unlike other DUI charges, a subsequent conviction under this statute is an automatic felony DUI, not a misdemeanor.

Consequences for Misdemeanor DUI with Injury

Under VC 23153, the consequences for misdemeanor DUI with injury are as follows:

  • Summary or informal probation
  • County jail sentence for five days to one year
  • A fine of between $390 to $5,000
  • Mandatory attendance to a 3, 9, 18, or 30-month court-approved drug or alcohol education program
  • Suspension of your driver's license for one to three year
  • Paying restitution to all injured parties

Consequences for Felony DUI with Injury

Under Vehicle Code 23135, the consequences for felony DUI with injuries include:

  • 2,3, or 4 years in a California State Prison
  • An addition and consecutive three to six years for any victim that suffers significant bodily injury
  • A fine between $1,015 to $5,000
  • Mandatory attendance to a court-approved DUI school for 18 months or 30 months
  • Inclusion of a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status for a maximum of three years
  • Revocation of your driver's license for five years
  1. Vehicle Code 23152(f) – DUI of Drugs

Under Vehicle Code 23152(f), it is illegal to drive while under the influence of drugs. If underage drivers are under the influence of drugs, they cannot maintain a sober person’s due diligence. This applies whether the drugs are illegal, over-the-counter prescriptions, or a combination of any drug and alcohol.

Consequences for DUI of Drugs

Driving under the influence of drugs is charged as a misdemeanor. However, the violation could  be charged as a felony offense if:

  • It is your fourth or subsequent DUI offense
  • You had a prior conviction for a felony DUI
  • Someone else was seriously injured or killed due to your impaired driving

Misdemeanor Charges

The penalties for misdemeanor charged for DUI of Drugs include:

  • DUI probation for three to five years
  • A maximum fine of $1,800
  • Mandatory attendance to a California DUI school
  • Suspension of your driver's license
  • A potential jail term

Felony Charges

Penalties for felony charges for DUI of drugs include:

  • A maximum jail time of three years or four years if someone else was injured
  • A maximum fine of $1,000 or $ 5,000 if someone else was injured
  • Suspension of your driver's license for a minimum of one year
  • Felony probation instead of part or all your jail term
  1. Penal Code 191.5 –Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated

Per California Penal Code 191.5, you commit vehicular manslaughter by driving while intoxicated and killing another person due to negligence. This law applies to drivers who cause death while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Consequences of Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated

Violation of Penal Code 191.5 is a wobbler. Therefore, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the offense's facts and your criminal history.

For a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, the potential consequences include:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • A maximum of one year in county jail
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

If you are charged with a felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the potential consequences include:

  • Formal or felony probation
  • Imprisonment for sixteen months, two or four years
  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • Driver's license suspension for one year

Other Related Charged Associated with Underage DUI

Once the police pull you over once they suspect you of driving under the influence, they can charge you with other related charges such as:

  • Impounding your car for a maximum of one year if you are found possessing an open alcohol container
  • A minimum fine of $250, 36-48 hours of community service, and an automatic suspension of your driver's license for one year for possessing alcohol in public
  • An automatic suspension of your driver's license for two or more years if you fail to take a breath test

Your charges can be worse since all the charges listed above do not cancel each other out. For instance, you can be charged with Underage drinking + Possession of an open container + Possession of alcohol in public and face all the fines and penalties for each of the charges cumulatively. This can add up to tens of thousands of fines, high legal costs, license suspension for years, and possibly a permanent criminal record.

How to Fight Underage DUI Charges

If you face DUI charges, you remain innocent of this offense until the prosecution proves that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Proving something beyond a reasonable doubt is a high burden of proof that is challengeable once you hire a professional and reliable attorney.

You and your attorney can fight your underage DUI charges if you identify and take advantage of legal flaws related to the critical elements needed to convict you for underage DUI. The following are the best legal defenses that your attorney can adopt to challenge your underage DUI charges.

Prove that There Was No Probable Cause for Your Stoppage

If a traffic officer is about to stop a driver for DUI suspicion, they must have probable reasons for stopping you. The most common reasons that can prompt a driver to stop a vehicle include speeding, running a stoplight, or other impairment patterns.

If you were stopped and arrested without probable reason, your attorney should file a motion to suppress evidence collected during the illegal stoppage. This can exclude the DUI BAC test results acquired, except those obtained at a DUI sobriety checkpoint.

Suppressing these pieces of evidence increases the chances of dismissing your DUI charges since the police should provide valid and admissible evidence proving that you were DUI.

Claim that You Had a Rising BAC

A rising BAC is a legal defense that a DUI defendant argues out that when he or she was driving earlier, his or her BAC was lower and then rose to the measured amount after driving. This means that when the defendant was driving, the BAC level was below 0.08%, so he or she is not guilty of DUI.

Claiming that you had a rising BAC does not entirely help an underage driver dismiss DUI charges but can be suitable when reducing your DUI charges from standard DUI to charges under the Zero Tolerance Law, which attracts less severe penalties. It is necessary to prove that your BAC levels were not at the California standard BAC levels of 0.08% or above to use this legal defense.

Rising BAC legal defense is most effective when:

  • You were significantly delayed while you were pulled over and before the BAC test was administered
  • Your BAC test level was close to the 0.08% BAC level
  • You were not exhibiting any clear signs of intoxication like swerving, traffic violation, or slurred speech
  • You were close to your intended destination when you were stopped for DUI

Inaccurate Breath Test Results

Most DUI charges rely on breath test results. However, this kind of test has an error rate ranging between 0.005 to 0.02%, which can significantly affect the actual results. Some of the factors that can affect the breathalyzer results include the physical difference between drivers, improper calibration or maintenance of the breathalyzer, or the device's marginal error.

Your attorney can challenge the BAC reading based on the above-stated factors and claim that the recorded BAC level is below the standard 0.08 BAC limit. This would reduce your charges from standard DUI charges to charges under the Zero Tolerance law.

Unreliable Field Sobriety Tests

Drivers are usually requested to take a sobriety test once they are stopped at a DUI checkpoint before taking a chemical test. Failure to pass the field sobriety test would prompt the officer to ask for a chemical test. Most people do not pass these tests even when they are completely sober due to several factors such as:

  • Interference of your shoes and clothing
  • Poor balancing
  • Poor coordination
  • Bad lighting
  • Uneven surface condition
  • Nervousness due to police intimidation

Unreliable Blood Test Results

Ideally, blood tests should show more accurate and reliable results compared to a breath test. However, several factors can raise suspicion over the blood test's accuracy and can be used to fight DUI charges. The first reason is the case of a rising BAC level between the time you were stopped by the police and the time of the blood test. Therefore, the results acquired after the test do not reflect your BAC accurately while driving.

Other valid reasons that you can use to challenge the blood test results include:

  • Contamination of your blood test sample
  • Mishandling of the test evidence
  • Improper refrigeration or storage of the blood sample

Prove that Your DUI Test Refusal was Necessary

Proving that your refusal to take a breath test was necessary does not help in entirely dismissing your case but can help you avoid the suspension of your driver's license. It is not a crime to refuse a breath test if you have a valid medical reason. For instance, some medical conditions make it hard for the suspect to exhale a breathalyzer with the expected force. Therefore, your refusal to undertake the test can be found valid if all the rules related to the breath test both at a DUI checkpoint and at the station are found to have been followed correctly.

Failure to take a breath test can prompt other extra and useful legal defenses. These defenses provide different reasons why you could not provide adequate test samples. These includes:

  • Unclear verbal instructions on how you should blow the breathalyzer to produce accurate results
  • Failure to give enough time to blow the device to acquire a proper reading

Failure to Read Miranda Rights Warnings

Every citizen should be issued with Miranda rights warning during an arrest. If traffic police do not read out your Miranda rights, everything you use to respond to the officer's questioning cannot be used as evidence against you in court. Apart from that, any statement or evidence collected without a Miranda rights warning cannot be used against you in court.

Failure to read Miranda rights could work in your DUI case even if you had admitted to drinking alcohol or taking drugs, hence your high BAC reading. A skilled DUI attorney would keep this information out of the evidence if the officer did not correctly read the Miranda rights.

Prove that GERD or Heartburn Caused a Falsely High BAC reading

Conditions like heartburn or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) can cause a falsely high BAC reading. Ideally, breathalyzers are supposed to measure alcohol from deep lung tissues, but these conditions can cause mouth alcohol that causes a false high reading. GERD causes alcohol to travel from the stomach to the throat and mouth, which causes mouth alcohol measured by the breathalyzer.

Experiencing a falsely high BAC reading is not limited to those suffering from chronic GERD but can also affect anyone who has recently eaten a greasy meal, a spicy meal, or a large meal. Taking a breath test after this kind of experience can result in erroneously high BAC results.

Improper 15-Minute Observation Before the Breath Test

Under California DUI checkpoint regulations, officers should watch a DUI suspect for at least fifteen minutes before administering a breath test. This period is suitable to ensure that the suspect does not belch, hiccup, burp, or regurgitate. These actions can cause alcohol to travel from the stomach to the mouth and trigger exaggerated BAC reading.

Most officers rarely note this observation timeline and usually participate in activities like paperwork, writing reports, setting up the breathalyzer, and conversing with their partners. These activities divert their attention from watching the DUI vigilantly and can sometimes compromise the credibility of the results acquired. 

Innocent Explanation for Your Symptoms of Intoxication

Sometimes police officers almost claim to have observed particular "objective symptoms of intoxication" in DUI suspects and go-ahead to arrest and charge them for DUI. These objective symptoms include:

  • An unsteady gait
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot and watery eyes
  • A flushed face

DUI police officers use pre-printed documents for these symptoms, where they check them off once they observe a particular sign from the DUI suspect. In most cases, they do not rely on photographs, audiotapes, or videotapes to prove to the jurors the extent of the symptoms presented during the stoppage. Therefore, your attorney can easily challenge this kind of evidence once presented to the court.

The best way to challenge this kind of evidence is through an innocent explanation of your symptoms. For instance, symptoms like allergies, eye strain, and allergies can cause bloodshot eyes, meaning that the DUI suspect was not necessarily DUI. Apart from that, a DUI suspect can exhibit a flushed face due to nervousness, anger, or embarrassment.

Officers rarely consider these innocent explanations of intoxication into account. That's why your DUI defense attorney must emphasize to the jury that the evidence is inconsistent with a non-alcohol explanation and does not explain that you were intoxicated.

Prove that You Were Not Driving

Surprisingly, most drivers are arrested and charged with DUI because they were sleeping while drunk inside their vehicles. This kind of arrest and charges cannot be valid since you were not driving or there is no proof that you were driving while impaired. Therefore, your DUI attorney will argue that there is no crime in sleeping in your vehicle, even when you are intoxicated and the arrest was inappropriate and illegal.

Find a DUI Attorney Near Me

Underage DUI is a severe offense in California. Hiring an attorney is critical when you or your loved one faces arrest for Underage DUI. Your attorney will answer all the questions you may have, offer legal guidance, and fight for your rights in court.

At the Bakersfield DUI Attorneys, we walk you through plea bargains and work hard to achieve a favorable outcome. Contact us today at 661-215-5660 and let us offer you the legal support and skills needed to fight your underage DUI charges.