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Everyone remembers the sense of freedom and empowerment that comes with getting a car for the first time. Having the ability to go wherever one wants without the supervision of an adult is a big milestone in a person’s life, but with this independence comes a lot of responsibility. A car can easily become a danger to others if not driven properly, and this possibility is increased if the driver is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs. And, this behavior can lead to DUI charges if police encounter an intoxicated underage driver. Everyone realizes that teenagers and young adults will look to push the boundaries of authority by engaging in adult activities, like drinking alcohol, but due to the potential consequences, the law treats underage drunk driving with particular harshness. Understanding how California law views underage drunk driving and the possible punishments is important information for parents and young drivers to hopefully avoid this situation, but at the very least, to alert them on what to expect if an arrest occurs.

“Zero Tolerance” DUI Law

Anyone under the age of 21 discovered driving while intoxicated is subject to California’s ‘zero tolerance’ law for underage drinkers. This law says that a blood alcohol reading of 0.01% or higher is treated as a traffic infraction and punished with a suspension of a person’s driver’s license for one year. The blood alcohol level is typically measured at the time of the stop using a breathalyzer or other similar device. Note that alcohol from any source, including medication like cough syrup, is subject to this law, and if the driver refuses to submit to this testing, he/she is subject to an extension of driver’s license suspension of up to three years. However, just like adult DUI license suspensions, the driver has the right to challenge the license suspension in front of the DMV, or seek restricted driving privileges if the challenge is unsuccessful.

Underage Drinking with a BAC of 0.05% or Higher

In addition to the zero tolerance law for underage intoxicated driving, California has another law that elevates the penalties for underage drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.05% or higher. This reading is usually confirmed by an additional test at the police station. This violation is still not considered a misdemeanor, but does punish the driver with a one-year license suspension, a $100 fine, and a mandatory alcohol education program of three months or more. It is important to mention that any driver under the age of 21 that registers a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more is considered legally impaired, and will be charged under the standard adult DUI offense laws.

Possessing Alcohol While Under the Age of 21

Finally, if an underage driver knowingly operates a vehicle that contains alcohol he/she could face charges for a misdemeanor offense unless the driver is accompanied by a parent, adult relative, or adult designated by the parent. In addition, if the driver is not accompanied by an adult there is still a defense to this crime if the driver was in the process of following a parent’s instructions on transporting/delivering the alcohol. Because this is a criminal offense, the possible penalties include impoundment of the vehicle up to 30 days if it is registered in the name of the underage driver, a $1,000 fine, and a one-year suspension of the driver’s license.

Hire a DUI Attorney

It may seem unnecessary to hire an attorney to fight a non-criminal DUI infraction, but an experienced criminal defense attorney will know how to effectively fight a driver’s license suspension, or even have the charge dismissed if police assert the minor was in the unlawful possession of alcohol. The Los Angeles law office of Manshoory Law Group, APC works to get clients the best possible outcome. Contact us for a free consultation.

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