Because all fifty states make it illegal for anyone under age 21 to consume alcohol – absolutely and for any reason – underage drivers face added penalties if they are convicted of DUI. Los Angeles DUI lawyers frequently advise and defend underage drivers who are charged with DUI.

What constitutes DUI – driving under the influence – for drivers who are below the age of 21? What additional rules and penalties does California apply to underage drivers? And where can you turn for help if you’re under 21 or if your child is under 21 and has been arrested for DUI?

If you’ll continue reading, you will learn the answers to those questions and more about DUI, underage drivers, the law, and your rights here in the state of California.

WHAT IS CALIFORNIA’S “ZERO TOLERANCE” LAW?

For drivers age 21 and above, the “legal limit” for a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent, but under California’s “Zero Tolerance” law, if a driver is under 21, and if any trace of alcohol whatsoever is measured or detected, that driver will be charged with underage DUI.

And that’s only part of the law. The penalty for an underage DUI conviction depends on the driver’s BAC level at the time of the arrest. Here is how the underage DUI law works:

  1. BAC 0.01 percent to 0.049 percent: Underage drivers who are convicted of DUI in this lowest BAC range lose their driver’s licenses for a year. There is no jail time, and these drivers will not have the DUI conviction on their driving records.
  2. BAC 0.05 percent to 0.079 percent: An underage DUI conviction for a driver in this BAC range puts a DUI conviction on that youth’s driving record. Drivers lose their license for a year, pay a $100 fine, and must attend and pay for three months of DUI classes.
  3. BAC at or above 0.08 percent. This is the same DUI law that applies to adults. Penalties may include substantial fines, a one-year driver’s license suspension, up to six months in custody, up to nine months of DUI classes, and three-to-five years on probation.
  4. Impaired driving: If you were driving dangerously after consuming any amount of alcohol – whether you are an adult or a minor – you can be charged with DUI and face the same penalties you would face for driving with a BAC level over 0.08 percent.

If you have an open container of alcohol in a moving vehicle, that’s another separate charge.

HOW ARE UNDERAGE DUI CHARGES APPLIED?

While these definitions for underage DUI seem clear-cut, what happens in real life when a driver is arrested for underage DUI can be quite complicated. If your BAC level measured was 0.07 percent and you were driving recklessly, you’ve violated three of the rules:

  1. the Zero Tolerance law (0.01 percent or above)
  2. the Underage DUI law (0.05 percent or above)
  3. impaired driving

In this situation, an arresting officer will probably charge an underage driver will every violation that may apply – in effect stacking up a number of potential penalties for that driver.

Still, a conviction will count only as a single driving under the influence conviction, but the driver may have his or her driver’s license suspended for years, pay enormous fines and fees, and be ordered to attend DUI classes for a number of months.

HOW CAN A DUI ATTORNEY HELP YOU OR YOUR CHILD?

That’s why an underage driver in southern California who is charged with DUI must be advised and defended by an experienced Los Angeles DUI defense attorney. Your attorney’s first step will be trying to reduce the charges against you or trying to have the case dropped or dismissed.

If you are innocent of the underage DUI charge, your attorney will use every available and appropriate legal tool to fight for your acquittal. However, if the evidence against you is strong and a conviction is certain, your DUI lawyer will seek reduced or alternative sentencing.

While the penalties for an underage DUI conviction are substantial, perhaps the most important thing to know about underage DUI is that when an underage driver is convicted of the charge, the legal penalties are only one aspect of the consequences.

WHAT ABOUT THE “EXTRA-LEGAL” PENALTIES FOR DUI?

A DUI conviction can severely reduce a young person’s educational and employment options.

  1. On an admissions application, a college may ask about your criminal record, and you’re required to disclose an underage DUI conviction if it involved impaired driving or a BAC level at or above 0.05 percent. Some colleges reject applicants with a DUI conviction.
  2. Employers may also ask about your criminal record, and you’re required to tell them the truth. You may be rejected for a job on the basis of your underage DUI conviction.

CAN YOU BEAT AN UNDERAGE DUI PROSECUTION?

Los Angeles DUI lawyers have a number of tactics that may be used to defend underage drivers who are charged with driving under the influence:

  1. If the key evidence against you is the breathalyzer test result, your attorney may challenge the reliability of the device or the credentials of the person who administered the breathalyzer test.
  2. If the key evidence against you is a police officer’s testimony, your attorney may challenge that police officer’s credibility and investigate the officer’s history of DUI arrests and testimony.
  3. If a police officer had no “reasonable cause” to stop you in traffic, that officer may have acted illegally, and if that happened, the charge against you might be dismissed.

HOW SOON SHOULD YOU SPEAK TO A DUI LAWYER?

If you’re an underage driver who is charged with DUI, your youth is an advantage. A skillful DUI attorney can argue that your DUI violation was a foolish, one-time mistake. If you’ve never been in trouble with the law, it’s possible that a prosecutor may simply drop the charge.

No final outcome can ever be guaranteed in advance in any DUI case, but Los Angeles DUI lawyers have a high rate of success in cases that involve underage drivers. A good DUI attorney will offer the sound legal advice – and the aggressive defense representation – that you’ll need.

Do not wait to make the call to a DUI defense lawyer if you’ve been charged – or if your child has been charged – with underage DUI. A good attorney’s help is your right.