Under 21 with DUI Charges?

Drivers under the age of 21 are often involved in a significant number of DUI arrests. Since these drivers are not lawfully old enough to consume alcohol, they can be punished more than adult drunk motorists. And for those who are not old enough, the state of California defines DUI differently. This makes DUI cases where underage drivers are involved more complicated.

So what can happen to underage DUI offenders? The short answer is: you will likely face the same criminal penalties as an adult if you are under the age of 21 and are convicted for a DUI in California. The prosecution is also likely to push for additional penalties, and a DUI conviction on your record may impair your education and your employability.

Did you know, that you could even be charged with an underage DUI if you left a party after drinking and rode your bike or took a scooter? Learn more in our article Can You Get a DUI on a Bike or an Electric Scooter?

Underage DUI Laws and Penalties

Zero Tolerance law – Vehicle Code 23136 

California has numerous juvenile drug-related laws, including the “zero tolerance” legislation for juvenile underage drivers is Vehicle Code 23136 VC. This law makes it illegal for persons who are under 21 years to drive with a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) level of 0.02% or more.

The zero-tolerance legislation of covers all alcoholic beverages – not only alcoholic beverages but even medicinal drugs containing alcohol can lead to a DUI charge under VC 23136. 

It’s worth noting that VC 23136 does not exclude drivers who were not impaired by the alcohol. By law, if you’re an underage driver arrested for drunk driving, all it takes to prove a violation of this law is that you had a measurable amount of alcohol in your system 

Under California’s implied consent laws, minors detained on suspicion of drunk driving are required by law to submit to a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test (breathalyzer). If the test results show a BAC level of less than 0.05%, you will not be convicted of a DUI offense, but you will still face the following penalties:

  • An infraction payable by up to $250
  • A one-year license suspension by the DMV but can go up to three years if the defendant has a history of violating DUI laws

This is an administrative or “per se” suspension, but you can request a hearing to have the suspension dismissed. We highly recommend having an attorney present during this hearing. 

Underage driver with BAC above 0.05%- Vehicle Code 23140 

California Vehicle Code 23140 prohibits underage drivers from driving with a BAC of 0.05% and above. Being young coupled with bad decisions can make underage drivers more susceptible to experiencing impairment, even at 0.05%. This wouldn’t normally be considered an offense for adults, but if you’re below the legal drinking age, it counts as under 21 DUI law. Unlike the zero-tolerance policy, violating this law can lead to a criminal conviction, although you won’t face any jail time. You will, however, have to pay criminal fines of up to $250 and attend mandatory DUI classes for three months. Your license will also be suspended for one year by the DMV.

Underage drinking causing actual impairment or with BAC above 0.08% – Vehicle Code 23152

By far, the most serious charge under underage DUI laws would be a standard adult DUI charge, Vehicle Code 23152. The blood alcohol concentration limit for adults is 0.08%. However, underage drivers can be charged with an adult DUI if:

  • her or his driving ability has actually been impaired by alcohol or drugs, or 
  • he or she are driving with a BAC of 0.08% and above

A first conviction without any aggravating factors like injuries or death is a misdemeanor and can lead to the following penalties:

  • A one-year driver’s license suspension
  • Up to 5 years of informal probation
  • Up to $1,000 in criminal fines
  • Mandatory DUI classes for up to 9 months
  • Although rare, up to six months in county jail

Other DUI Consequences for Under 21 Drivers

College DUI

Some universities and colleges have disciplinary actions which can be applied once a student has received a DUI. Even if the DUI has taken place off-campus, university rules can impose punishment on students who are convicted of drunk driving, including probation, loss of privileges, housing discharge, suspensions, compulsory alcohol education and intervention, and even losing scholarships. Student-athletes may face additional consequences on top of these.

Further, prospective students may still be obliged to disclose the DUI in their college, graduate school, or law school applications even after completing all their DUI obligations.

To learn how a DUI can impact college acceptance, check out our article- Can a DUI Impact College Acceptance?

Car insurance

For young drivers, car insurance is high enough without adding a DUI. Following a DUI, teenage drivers must get an SR-22 financial liability certificate to be insured by their insurance company. A DUI will result in higher insurance costs, about 2 or 3 times more than the normal rate. In some cases, some insurance companies may completely decline to renew the underage offender’s policy.

There are numerous tactics an experienced defense lawyer can use to whittle down the evidence against you. As a result, you could get to keep your license, avoid jail time or even win your DUI case entirely.

If you have been charged with a DUI, we can give you the best legal representation Los Angeles has to offer. Our team of highly experienced and effective lawyers at Criminal Defense Heroes, P.C. will stop at nothing to get you a positive outcome and help you recover from a DUI. Chat with us online or call 323-529-3660 and get help immediately.

The DUI Attorney Don Hammond


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