In the interest of public safety, driving under the influence of alcohol is a criminal offense in all states, including California. Underage DUI laws target drivers below 21 years who operate vehicles under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Individuals who, at the time of driving a car while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs were 21 years of age or below, violate California's zero-tolerance and underage driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05% or greater laws.

A conviction under the abovementioned laws results in fines, driver's license suspension, and possible jail time. A criminal defense attorney is your best bet at fighting these charges. Should you or a loved one face underage DUI charges in Anaheim, count on the California Criminal Lawyer Group to be of assistance.

California Underage DUI Laws

Drivers under 21 years who operate vehicles while under the influence of alcohol potentially violate three laws

  • California's Zero-tolerance law, Vehicle Code 23136

  • Underage driving with a BAC level exceeding 0.05%, Vehicle Code 23140

  • Standard DUI laws under Vehicle Code 23152 — Adult DUI laws

Most underage DUI offenders face prosecution under Vehicle Codes 23136 and 23140. However, the DA could also introduce charges for violations of Vehicle Code 23152.

  1. Zero-Tolerance Law

It is a civil offense under Vehicle Code 23136 for any driver under 21 years to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.01% or higher.

Note: alcohol content is not limited to the consumption of alcoholic beverages. You can have a degree of alcohol thanks to medication or non-alcoholic drinks. However, it does not matter that the alcohol level was not from an alcoholic beverage under the law. Further, it is equally inconsequential whether you were impaired at the time of driving. A measure of alcohol of 0.01 % or higher violates the zero-tolerance law.

How BAC is Measured

Blood alcohol content or BAC is measured through a PAS (preliminary alcohol screening) test. The test is administered at the traffic stop through a breathalyzer. You will be required to breathe into the device. The device then converts the alcohol in your breath to a percentage.

Breathalyzers are one way to test blood alcohol content. The officers could require a blood or urine sample to determine the alcohol content in your bloodstream.

Elements of the Crime

Prosecutors must prove the following for you to be found guilty under Vehicle Code 23136.

  • You drove the vehicle,

  • You had a blood alcohol of 0.01% but not more than 0.05% if charged for violating the zero-tolerance law, and

  • You were 21 years of age or younger when you committed the offense.

Penalties for a Vehicle Code 23136 Violation

Driving a car with a BAC level of 0.01 or higher while under 21 years results in a mandatory license suspension. Your suspension remains in effect for one year for a first-time violation.

Drivers with a history of violating California’s drunk laws will have their driver’s licenses revoked for two or three years.

  1. Underage Driving With a BAC Level Exceeding 0.05%

Violations of Vehicle Code 23140 are also referred to as underage DUI. Under the law, it is an offense for a driver below 21 years to operate a vehicle with an alcohol content of 0.05% or higher but not exceeding 0.08%. Traffic officers will conduct a roadside test with the results confirmed at the police station through a subsequent breath test or a DUI blood sample.

Elements of the Crime

The DA must prove the following to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • You drove the vehicle,

  • You had had blood alcohol exceeding 0.05% to 0.08% if charred with a Vehicle Code 23140 violation, and

  • You were 21 years of age or younger when you committed the offense.

Penalties for Underage DUI

Vehicle Code 23140 violations are infractions. Therefore, a conviction will not result in jail time. However, your license will be suspended for one year for first-time offenses. Further, you will part with $100 in fines if you are a first-time offender, with the possibility of the fines increasing for subsequent offenses.

The judge will require you to attend an alcohol education program as part of the punishment, which could run for three months or longer.

  1. Standard DUI Laws

If the tests reveal a BAC level of 0.08% or higher, you will be prosecuted under the adult DUI law, Vehicle Code 23152. Under the law, it is an offense to:

  • Drive a car under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both — This action points to actual impairment, an offense under VC 23152(a)

  • Drive a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, which is an offense under VC 23152(b)

Note: Minors can be tried as adults if:

  • They cause a crash that inflicts injury on another or kills another, or

  • Have multiple prior DUI convictions

Elements of the Crime

Prosecutors should prove the following elements as true for you to be found guilty of a Vehicle 23152 offense.

  • You drove the car

  • You had had blood alcohol exceeding 0.08% if charged with a Vehicle Code 23152(a) violation, or were under the influence of drugs if charged with a Vehicle Code 23152(b) violation, and

  • You were 21 years of age or younger when you committed the offense.

Penalties Under Standard DUI Laws

Vehicle Code 23152 offenses are misdemeanor violations.

If your driving under the influence did not cause injury to another, a first-time offense is punishable by:

  • A one-year driver’s license suspension — You could apply for a restricted license if you have no alternative means of transportation to your school or place of work

  • Summary probation for three to five years

  • Possible jail time for up to six months, though in rare cases

  • Fines totaling from $390 to $1,000

  • Mandatory attendance in an alcohol and/or drug education program

You could also face additional charges, including:

  • Carrying an alcoholic container — It is a violation of Business and Professions (B&P) Code 25662 for minors to possess alcohol on a highway, street, or in a public location. Convictions result in a $20 fine and 24 to 32 hours of community service for first-time offenders and a driver’s license suspension.

  • Open alcoholic container in the car — It is a crime in California to have an open alcoholic container in public, with open containers also including cans, bottles, or boxes with broken seals. The DA could charge you under any of the following laws:

  1. VC 23221, for drinking or smoking marijuana in a car

  2. VC 23221(a), for possessing an open container in a vehicle

  3. VC 23224, for possession of an open container in a vehicle as a minor (under 21 years of age)

  4. VC 23225 for storing open containers in the trunk of your car.

  • Using an adult’s real ID or a fake ID to obtain alcohol, which is a violation of Vehicle Code 13004

  • Riding as a passenger in the vehicle while in possession of alcoholic beverages

Other standard DUI charges minors could face include:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs, a crime under Vehicle Code 2152(f)

  • DUI causing injury, an offense under VC 23153

  • DUI murder, a crime prosecuted under Penal Code 187

  • Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, an offense under Penal Code 191.5

Administration of DUI Tests by Police

Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations sets forth the conduct law enforcement officers must abide by when administering DUI blood, breath, and urine tests. The results of these tests form the basis of your charges. Therefore, if police officers fail to comply with Title 17’s provisions, you have grounds to challenge the DUI charges.

The provisions are safeguards to ensure the accuracy of the samples is not compromised.

Title 17 Rules on Breath Tests

Administration of breath tests should be within the following Title 17 provisions:

  • A recalibration of breathalyzers every ten days or 105 uses, whichever comes first

  • Breath samples should be from alveolar air or deep lung air.

  • Police officers should observe you for at least 15 minutes before providing your sample. Further, you should not consume any food, drink, smoke, regurgitate or vomit during this period.

  • The breathalyzers should be appropriately calibrated before a breath sample is taken.

  • The individual administering the breath test should be properly trained on using the breathalyzer.

Title 17 Provisions on Blood Tests

Title 17 outlines the following rules with regards to DUI blood tests:

  • An authorized technician must draw your blood

  • An alcohol-based cleaning agent should be used to sterilize the draw site

  • There should be a sufficient quantity of unexpired anticoagulants and preservatives in the blood vial — Anticoagulants and preservatives prevent fermentation or clotting of the blood sample, which gives a falsely high BAC reading.

  • The anticoagulants and preservatives should be thoroughly mixed with the blood sample.

  • The blood sample should be stored properly.

Title 17 Provisions on Urine Tests

Urine tests are the last resort. Officials could require a urine sample if breath and blood tests are unavailable. Urine tests will be used to confirm your inebriation if you are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or both alcohol and drugs.

Title 17 requires that you void your bladder first and provide a sample at least 20 minutes later. Any sample taken before is unreliable. Further, the sample should be preserved for one year. Preservation allows defendants to retest the samples via independent laboratories.

Consequences of Title 17 Violations

Your attorney will challenge any violation of Title 17 provisions because the results are deemed inaccurate and unreliable. Thus, your attorney’s efforts could result in the DA:

  • Agreeing to a lesser charge, wet or reckless DUI in a plea bargain deal, or

  • Dismissing your charges altogether

Should the case proceed to trial, the jury could deliver a not-guilty verdict on the violation.

Refusing to Take a Breath Test

Refusing to submit to a PAS test and post DUI test is deemed an offense, punishable by a driver’s license suspension.

The DMV will revoke your license for at least two years should you have prior convictions for a DUI offense or a wet reckless offense, a violation of Vehicle Code 23103.5, or refusal to submit to a chemical test.

Challenging a Driver’s License Suspension

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles issues license suspensions for driving offenses like underage DUI. The hearings and determination by the DMV are a separate process from trial proceedings. Further, the DMV license suspension hearing is an administrative procedure that only affects your driving privileges. The DMV does not provide fines and/or jail sentences for traffic offenses.

When arrested, the police officer will issue you a Notice of Suspension. This notice serves as a temporary license that remains in effect for 30 days pending the determination in a DMV hearing. You have ten days to challenge the suspension, failure to which your driver’s license will be automatically suspended.

You can file a request for a hearing with the help of your attorney within the ten-day window. This request delays the automatic license suspension pending the determination of the hearing.

A win at the hearing means the DMV will cancel your driver’s license suspension or revocation. Should you lose and the suspension or revocation is upheld, you have two options:

  • Appeal the decision — The appeal process begins upon submitting a written request and payment of $120 within 15 days after the hearing officer’s decision.

  • Request for restricted use — If granted, you will be allowed to drive to your workplace, school, or any other destination approved by the DMV. You can apply for a restricted hardship/critical use license if you do not have another mode of transportation. However, this request will be denied if the reason for the suspension was a refusal to take a chemical test.

At the end of the license suspension, you can have your driving privileges reinstated by:

  • Paying the DMV a $125 reissue fee.

  • Filling an SR-22 form — It is proof of financial responsibility that verifies that you have met California’s requirements concerning auto liability insurance. Your auto insurance provider provides the form.

  • Maintaining the proof of financial responsibility for at least three years.

Legal Defenses to Underage Drinking

There are numerous defenses available to challenge an underage DUI charge. Work with your attorney to settle for the ideal strategy. Some of the common defenses include:

Lack of Probable Cause for the Traffic Stop

Ideally, police officers do not need probable cause to stop you at a DUI checkpoint. This defense is applicable in situations where you were stopped at any location other than at a DUI checkpoint. Officers need probable cause to effect the stop.

Under the Fourth Amendment, officers need a justification to make a traffic stop or arrest a suspect. In this case, the officers should have reasonable suspicion to stop you, conduct a DUI test, and subsequently arrest you. However, the law does not require the officers to suspect you of driving under the influence. Any potential infraction suffices, like driving with a broken tail light or failing to signal before making a turn.

An independent investigation should unearth the circumstances surrounding your arrest. Any potential violation of your Fourth Amendment right will inform the use of this defense.

You Were Not the Driver

Prosecutors must prove you were the driver beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to which you are not guilty of the crime.

This defense is applicable when no one witnessed you driving, which can happen when witnesses arrive after your car breaks down or the vehicle is parked.

DUI Testing Equipment Was Not Properly Calibrated

Since courts accept Breathalyzer evidence as sufficient proof of a defendant’s BAC level, breathalyzers require proper calibration and maintenance, failure to which the results are compromised. The police department will be required to demonstrate that they recalibrated the testing device in the case every ten days or after 150 uses.

Your attorney will present evidence that the police department failed to properly maintain and calibrate the devices, including the device used to test for your blood alcohol content. In doing so, the BAC results will be questionable, thus challenging the prosecution’s case.

Failure to Adhere to the Chemical Test Administration Procedures

Failure by the police officers to administer the tests as per the Title 17 provisions affects the credibility of the results to your advantage. Officers could mishandle the sample, fail to store it properly, or use contaminated equipment, thus affecting the quality of the sample. The results will then be compromised and cannot be relied upon.

Your attorney will make a blood split motion to obtain the remaining portion of your blood or urine sample to retest it at an independent lab. The test results could confirm the BAC level recorded by the arresting officers. Whereas this could be the case, the retest could point to a Title 17 violation.

You Had a Rising Blood Alcohol Content

Blood alcohol rises 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming alcohol. It is thus possible for the BAC to measure above the legal limit when the test was administered but was below the limit at the time of driving.

Under the law, DUI chemical tests are deemed accurate unless proven otherwise. Therefore, the defense bears the burden of proving that the results are inaccurate. Presenting expert witness testimony is, therefore, critical.

A forensic toxicologist will explain why your BAC test results were inaccurate to the court. Some of the reasons that affect the absorption of alcohol and thus affect the BAC level include:

  • Fatigue

  • The type of liquor consumed — Hard liquor has a higher alcohol content than beer.

  • How quickly you consumed the drink

  • Illness

  • Drug interactions

  • Your height, weight, body fat percentage, or body type, and

  • Your tolerance for alcohol

Your Blood Alcohol Was Not From Alcohol

DUI breath tests require air from deep lung tissue. If you fail to exhale from the lungs, the breathalyzer could pick up residual alcohol traces in your mouth, whose origin could be other sources other than alcohol. The gadget will then give a falsely high reading.

Possible culprits of the alcohol traces include:

  • Alcohol-based mouthwashes and breath sprays

  • Medications like cough syrups

  • Chewing tobacco

  • Dental works like retainers or dentures that trap food and drinks

  • Medical conditions like heartburn, acid reflux, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

In this defense, your attorney will argue that the:

  • Arresting officer did not wait the full 15 minutes required before administering the breath test. If the officer waited the full 15 minutes, it can be argued that he/she did not observe you keenly during this time. You vomited, regurgitated, smoked, or drank within the waiting time.

  • Any of the above-detailed issues could account for the alcohol content detected by the breathalyzer.

You Were on a High Protein/Low Carbohydrate Diet

Particular diets and medical conditions produce chemicals (ketones) chemically similar to alcohol. Police officers could smell alcohol on your breath and mistake it for alcohol consumption. A subsequent test will confirm the officer’s suspicion.

However, the presence and subsequent confirmation of alcohol in your body do not always point to the consumption of an alcoholic beverage. Ketones are released when the liver burns up the fat stored in the body to provide the body with energy. The following conditions top the release of ketones in the body:

  • Fasting

  • Diabetes

  • Consumption of a high protein/low carbohydrate diet, or

  • Hypoglycemia — When your blood sugar level is lower than normal

Most DUI breath testing equipment cannot differentiate between blood alcohol content and ketones. Thus, your attorney could introduce a medical expert in your defense. Further, your medical history will go a long way in confirming your condition.

Contact a Reputable DUI Defense Attorney Near Me

DUI convictions remain on your record, and you are obligated to report them in your college or job applications. You could lose your job or college position if you fail to report. These are but two aspects of your life that a DUI conviction could adversely impact.

Hiring an experienced attorney improves your ability to challenge underage DUI charges to secure the best legal outcome. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we strive to provide our clients with the best advice and legal representation. Call us today at 714-766-0965 if you or a loved one faces underage DUI charges in Anaheim.