You probably know that if you are over the age of 21, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level over .08%. You may even be aware of your right to refuse to take the road side breathalyzer test (referred to as a preliminary alcohol screening, or PAS test) if you have not been placed under arrest. (Remember, if you are placed under arrest, you MUST submit to a chemical test, either of your blood or breath.)
But it’s a whole different ball game if you are under 21.
For starters, those who may not legally drink in California also do not have the right to refuse the PAS test. The Vehicle Code specifically provides that any person under the age of 21 who has been legally stopped has given consent to any chemical or screening test to determine BAC. If a person refuses to take the test, his or her license will automatically be suspended for a minimum of year – even if the person is stone cold sober. If the driver does not yet have a license, then it will result in a one year delay in receiving driving privileges.
California exercises a zero tolerance law for underage drivers behind the wheel. Registering a .01% BAC will result in a violation of V.C. 23136, which is considered a civil offense. The fact this is not a criminal offense has two sides; on one hand, it is not criminal, so penalties are generally only enforced by the DMV and cannot include jail time. On the other, because it is merely a civil offense, the evidence does not need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt like a criminal charge. The evidence must only show it is more likely than not that you committed the offense. Further, this determination is made not by a judge in a court, but by a DMV hearing officer. Upon a finding an underage driver has violated the zero tolerance standard, the DMV will automatically impose a one year license suspension.
In addition to the zero tolerance law, an underage driver with a BAC higher than .05% may also be charged with a criminal offense under V.C. 23140. This charge is only used with an underage driver with a BAC between .05% and .07%, because if the driver has a BAC of .08% or higher, he or she would generally be charged with a regular DUI, just like an adult. This is a criminal charge, but it is only an infraction. This means you cannot receive any jail sentence. Any conviction for VC 23140 will result in a one year license suspension, various fines, and will require you to attend a three month alcohol program before your license can be reinstated.
Finally, any person under the age of 21 can still be charged with a DUI under V.C. 23152 just like an adult. Further, the zero tolerance violation will be added to the DUI charge, resulting in the same penalties an adult would face (several thousand dollars in fines, probation, potential jail time, mandatory alcohol education program) in addition to the one year license suspension.
Bottom line, it is extremely risky to drink and drive period, and penalties are much steeper for those under 21. If you have been arrested for underage and have been arrested for DUI, you should contact an attorney immediately. You have exactly ten days from your arrest to contact the DMV to challenge your license suspension. Contact criminal defense attorney Scott R. Ball today for a free and confidential evaluation of your case.