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What if I’m under 21 and get a DUI?

Under California law, individuals under the age of 21 are not supposed to be able to get access to alcohol. Because of California's zero-tolerance policy towards underage drinking and driving, any alcohol in an under-21 driver's body is enough to result in an arrest. Even half a beer could mean a young driver gets a DUI and loses their license.

The penalties and consequences of an under 21 DUI depend on the individual's blood-alcohol level, prior alcohol offenses, and if the individual was involved in other criminal or traffic violations. A criminal charge can follow you for years to come. To understand how you can fight the criminal charges and keep a clean record, contact the experienced East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

Underage Drivers Have to Consent to a Breath Test

One of the main differences between drivers over and under 21 during a traffic stop is that under-21 drivers are required to submit to a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test. Drivers 21 and older can refuse a roadside breath test and only have to consent to a breath or blood test if they are arrested.

Drivers under 21 who refuse a chemical breath will have their license suspended for 1 year. A second refusal can result in a revoked license for 2 years. A 3rd refusal can result in a revoked license for 3 years.  

Charges for Under-21 Drivers

The criminal charges for a DUI for underage drivers generally depend on the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC), with any amount of alcohol leading to an offense and the consequences increasing if the driver has a higher BAC.

Zero-Tolerance (0.01% or Higher)

Under California Vehicle Code 23136, it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 to have a BAC of 0.01% or higher measured by a PAS or other chemical test. The good news is that a zero-tolerance driving violation where the BAC is under 0.05% or the driver is not impaired will not result in jail time. The penalties for a first offense include a 1-year license suspension.

Underage DUI (0.05% or Higher)

Under California Vehicle Code 23140, it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 to have a BAC of 0.05% or to be found to be under the influence or affected by alcohol. The penalties for an underage DUI include a one-year license suspension, fine, and alcohol education.

The amount of alcohol consumed to get a driver over 0.05% BAC depends on a number of factors, including sex, weight, and time passing. Some drivers may claim to drive just fine after a couple of drinks. However, if your BAC is 0.05% or higher and you are under the age of 21, you can be charged no matter how great you were driving.

Per Se DUI (0.08% or Higher)

Just because a driver is under the age of 21 does not mean they cannot face the same criminal charges as an older driver who can purchase alcohol. Under California Vehicle Code 23152(b), if any driver has a BAC of 0.08% or higher, they can face DUI per se charges. These penalties are more severe than the zero-tolerance laws, and can include:

  • License suspension for 6 months,
  • Probation,
  • Fines of up to $1,000,
  • DUI school,
  • Up to 6 months in jail.

Other DUI charges may be treated the same, whether the driver is over or under 21, including:

Other Violations for Under-21 Drivers

Even if a driver under the age of 21 is not impaired, they could still face related charges during a traffic stop. For example, having an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, even if the driver is not drinking, can result in an open container violation. An open container of alcohol in a vehicle can result in criminal charges for the driver.

Even if the alcohol is not open, a person under the age of 21 with alcohol can receive a misdemeanor charge, fine, and community service for possession of alcohol.

DUI Defense for Underage Drivers in the East Bay

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 35 years of DUI experience and represents young drivers in DMV hearings to keep the driver's license and in the criminal court process to prevent a criminal record. If you or your son or daughter was arrested for a DUI in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, contact East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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