If you are arrested in California for driving under intoxication, you are likely to be charged with DUI under CA Vehicle Code 23152. Being intoxicated above the set limit is enough reason to have you convicted for DUI. California law permits adults above twenty-one years of age to drive or operate a vehicle with an alcohol blood percentage below 0.08%. If a minor below 21 years is arrested for driving under the influence, they will be charged with an underage DUI. Underage DUI is a severe offense in California, especially because it is illegal for minors to drink or use drugs.
Underage DUI carries severe penalties, and the punishment can have a long-term effect. If you or a person you know has been accused of underage DUI, it is essential to have a criminal defense attorney to help fight for their justice and ensure their rights are observed. We invite you to get in touch with us at Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm if you are looking for experienced criminal defense attorneys to defend underage DUI charges in Riverside, CA.
Understanding Blood Alcohol Content in Underage DUI
For you to be convicted under VC 23152, the authorities must carry out a test (s) to determine the exact blood alcohol concentration in your body. Different people react to alcohol differently depending on their weight, gender, medical conditions, height, strength, amount of alcohol consumed, the time that has passed since the consumption, and the amount of food eaten. These conditions can affect the results of the urine and blood test, and as a result, police officers prefer to use different tests if they believe that they are driving while intoxicated. Some of these tests include:
Field Sobriety Test
When you have pulled aside for DUI investigations, most arresting officers will use the FST to determine your impairment. The police may use various standardized field sobriety tests like:
- The Walk and Turn test —This is a divided attention test where you are supposed to use your physical and mental capability simultaneously. There are also other names that are used to define this test, like “the nine-step walk turn,” “the nine-step test,” “a DUI walk the line test” when you have pulled aside for DUI investigations most or “a DUI straight-line test.”
While performing this test, you are supposed to remember and follow instructions while doing the following:
- Take nine steps while tiptoeing on an imaginary or real line
- While pivoting
- Going back to the starting point the same way
During the test, the police will be looking out for any impairment sign. Here are some of the common signs that indicate impairment during this test:
- Starting too soon
- Failing to touch heel-to-toe
- Making a stop while walking
- Stepping away from the line
- Taking an incorrect amount of steps
- Failing to turn correctly
- Using your arms to balance
- Keeping your balance during instructions
- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test involves involuntary jerking eyes — as you move your eyes towards the side. Apart from being involuntary, nystagmus also occurs without your knowledge. There are different types of nystagmus, but the influence of alcohol causes only a few.
If you are pulled over for a DUI investigation, the police officer will use the “horizontal gaze nystagmus” to check your sobriety. During this test, the police will ask you to use your eyes to follow a stimulus which will keep moving from left to right back and forth for a few minutes. The police officer will look at the angle when the pupil begins to exhibit “nystagmus.”
If the nystagmus starts to exhibit before or at the angle of 45 degrees, that is an indication that you are intoxicated.
- “One–leg Stand Test” — This test is also a divided attention test requiring you to simultaneously use your mental and physical capability. During this test, the police will ask you to do the following:
- Raise your leg 6 inches off the ground
- Stay in that position for sometime
- Look at your feet
- Count from 1001 to 1030
During this test, the police will lookout for any of the following signs:
- Using arms to balance
- Putting your leg down
If the officer notices any of the above signs, that indicates that you may be intoxicated.
A blood test is one of the most accurate tests that shows an exact amount of a divided attention test requiring you to simultaneously load alcohol content. Blood will be drawn from your body and put into two different capsules. The officers will carry out an immediate test on one of the capsules and store the other one as evidence. Your defense attorney can ask the officials to use a blood split motion to conduct a private test on the stored sample.
According to studies, the urine test is not as accurate as the blood and breath test and is mainly used when the breath and blood tests are not applicable. The main defect with a urine test is that it can show results for alcohol consumed long ago. At times, the bladder can keep alcohol that you consumed hours ago and have no current effect on your body. This is why it is not always advisable to require you to simultaneously use a urine test to check intoxication levels.
Vehicle Codes that Control Underage DUI and the Penalties
There are three California vehicle codes associated with juvenile DUI and are used when ruling a DUI case involving a minor below 21 years. These vehicle codes include VEH 23152, 23136, and 23140.
Actual Impairment, Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.08 % or Above (CA Vehicle Code 23152)
DUI under this statute is charged as a misdemeanor, and it applies in different cases. For instance in:
- Vehicle code 23152(a), if the alcohol and drugs in your body have affected your driving capability
- Vehicle code 23152(b), if you were driving with an alcohol blood content higher than 0.08%
Penalties for Actual Impairment
If convicted for a first underage DUI, you are likely to face the following penalties:
- Fines of $390 to $1,000
- Detainment in jail for at least 96 hours
- Alcohol DUI education
- Probation of five years
However, if you caused any injuries while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and you are a minor, you are likely to face the following penalties:
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Probation of up to five years
- Detainment in county jail for up to one year
- Compensation to the injured persons
- Alcohol or DUI drug education
If the alleged victims sustained severe injuries, you are likely to face charges for felony DUI; meaning your penalties will be more serious. If charged with an underage felony DUI, you are likely to face the following:
- Imprisonment for up to 4 years
- Nullification of your driving license
- Your sentencing years may be added depending on the number of injured victims.
Zero Tolerance (CA Vehicle Code 23136)
This statute prohibits minors from driving with an alcohol blood concentration above 0.01%. This law is known as the zero-tolerance law. If you had consumed medicine containing alcohol, your test might turn positive, and you may be convicted under this statute. Although this is not considered a criminal offense, your driving license may be suspended. However, if you hire an experienced underage DUI attorney, you can win your DMV hearing, and your license will not be suspended.
Zero Tolerance Penalties
If you are convicted under the zero-tolerance law, you are likely to face the following penalties:
- Suspension of your driving license for one year
- If you refuse to undergo the chemical soberness test, your driving license will be suspended for additional three years
- Undergo a three months DUI education program
Underage DUI with a BAC higher than 0.05% (CA Vehicle Code 23140)
Under this statute, minors are prohibited from driving or operating a vehicle with a BAC higher than 0.05% but less than 0.08%. The penalties for vehicle code 23140 are more severe compared to those of vehicle code 23136.
Penalties for Underage DUI with a BAC higher than 0.05%
Although this statute does not involve jail time, you can still face some penalties like:
- 30 days in an alcohol and drug education facility if you are above 18 years
- If you are a first time offender, your driving license may be suspended for one year
- If you are charged with your first offense, you will be fined $100; if it is a second offense in the same year, you will be fined a $200 fine and $300 for a third offense.
Additional Underage DUI Charges
If you are convicted for an underage DUI, you are likely to face additional charges if:
- You acquired alcohol or drugs with a fake adult ID
- You had alcohol in a container
- You were drinking alcohol while riding as a passenger in a car
If these factors are present in your case, they are likely to aggravate your penalties. You could face:
- License Restriction— if minors do not win the DMV hearing, they risk having their license restricted. Note that License restriction is more severe than other types of od restrictions. If your license is restricted and you do not have an alternative mode of transport, you can only drive to school or work. And if you refuse to take the breath test, your license may also be restricted.
- Including your DUI charges in your application when applying for work or school — If you have been convicted for DUI before, you should state that when applying for a new school or job. Failing to state your past DUI conviction can make you be expelled from school or be fired from work. You might also be unable to apply for a scholarship depending on the policies of your school. You may also be able to avoid this by filling out a DUI expungement.
Possible Legal Defenses for Underage DUI
Underage DUI cases carry some severe and long-term punishment that could significantly affect your life. This is why hiring a skilled and experienced defense attorney should be among your priorities if you are facing underage DUI charges. Your attorney will explore and review the evidence presented and help you create a solid defense to fight your charges.
If you have valid and strong defenses, your charges may be reduced, or the prosecutor may permanently dismiss the case. The two main defenses in DUI cases include:
- Challenging the stop
- Challenging the chemical test
Depending on the most applicable one, your attorney may decide to use either of the defenses in the trial.
The Stop/Pullover Challenges
According to California law, every police officer should have a valid reason before pulling a driver over. They must have, beyond a reasonable doubt, thought that you had committed an offense or broken the traffic laws.
If a police officer stops you without a valid reason, they break your rights, and you could use this defense to have your charges dropped or reduced. The judge can dismiss any evidence obtained following an illegal pullover. Some of the evidence that could be dismissed include:
- The chemical test results
- Any evidence obtained from your car
- Any entrapping statement you made
Without some of this evidence, your case may be invalid and end up being dismissed.
Challenging the Tests
In some instances, even though the pullover was legal, the chemical tests carried out can at times offer misleading results. Breath and blood samples have a procedure that must be followed from the time they are collected from your body to the testing. If the officers skipped either of the steps or used the wrong method, you can use that to fight your charges, and the test results may not be used against you in the trial.
Breath Test Challenges
There are two main issues that are common breath tests in underage DUI cases. They are:
- The person carrying out the breathalyzer test should be certified to do so. If the person operating the breathalyzer during your test is not qualified, the results cannot be used in the trial as evidence because the person cannot attest to the correct results.
- Breathalyzers used to determine the amount of alcohol in your breath are finely tuned with very delicate sensors. If tampered with before, it is likely to give incorrect results. An experienced attorney can help the evidence not be used in the trial against you if you are a victim of a faulty breathalyzer.
What will happen if you Decline the Breath Test?
You could lose your driving freedom for up to one year if you refuse to take the preliminary assessment test (breath test). The one year may increase to two years if you have a previous DUI conviction or you refused to take the chemical test as well.
Can I Challenge My License Suspension After Refusing to Take a Breath Test?
Yes, you can. You may request a unit hearing to challenge the motion of your license suspension after denying to take a breath test. However, you should make this request within ten days after your license suspension. The unit hearing is mainly done on call but it can also be done in person if you request.
There are a couple of things that you are supposed to do if your license is reinstated. They include:
- Providing your three years financial commitment
- Pay a compensation fee of $125 to the Department of Motor Vehicles
- File and SR-22 form to showcase your budget management
Blood Test Challenges
Often a blood test is more reliable than a breath test. But that does not mean that blood tests are always 100% correct. There are times when blood test results are faulty. For instance, various preservatives and anticoagulants should be added to the blood samples after being collected to ferment. Fermented blood samples naturally create alcohol and, as a result, provide erroneous positive results.
Your blood sample is only supposed to be tested in a laboratory after being collected. In the lab, the blood goes through the hands of various people in the state-run labs, and there are specific measures that should be observed to ensure that your blood sample remains safe. Every person who comes into contact with the sample is recorded to ensure they are certified and no one tempers with the sample. If the prosecutor cannot account for the series of blood sample custody at each stage, the test results may be eliminated from your case.
The testing equipment and the lab technician should also be licensed, failure to which the results may also be eliminated from your case.
Additional defenses include:
- Bad driving does not always indicate DUI — If the police stopped you for terrible driving and accused you of driving while intoxicated, you can use this as a defense and say that your awful driving was a mistake or you were fatigued. Even sober drivers sometimes make driving mistakes, so terrible driving cannot be used as evidence for DUI.
- You had consumed a diet with high proteins and low carbs — If you had eaten food with low carbohydrates and high proteins before your arrest, the breath test might turn positive. This is because ketones produced by your body can contain some alcohol percentage. Ketones can also be present in your body if you are diabetic or fasting. This is a solid and common defense that could lead to the deduction of your charges, and your case could also be dismissed.
- You were not in the vehicle — If you can provide evidence showing that you were not driving the car, your charges could be reduced.
- Environmental factors affected the test results — If you performed poorly at the field sobriety test, you could argue that it was caused by poor lighting or slippery surfaces. Your attorney can help you come up with relevant reasons, and your charges could be reduced.
- You had acid reflux or heartburn during the arrest — There are some health conditions that can cause the presence of alcohol in your mouth, making the tests positive. You can present any evidence of your underlying medical conditions to fight your charges.
There are some offenses that could be charged alongside or together with underage DUI. They include:
Juvenile Alcohol Possession in a Vehicle (Vehicle code 23224)
This statute prohibits minors from owning alcohol while driving. You cannot be convicted if:
- You have a liquor license in your presence and are working
- The bottle containing the alcohol is still sealed and not opened
- If there is an adult present or if the adult is disposing of the alcohol
This penalty is charged as a misdemeanor, and the penalties include:
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Your car could be confiscated for thirty days
- Your driving license could also be suspended for one year
Driving in Possession of Marijuana (Vehicle Code 23222(b))
This statute prohibits minors from driving while in possession of marijuana. You are considered a suspect if the marijuana container is found broken or unsealed. If you are convicted under this statute, you are likely to pay a fine of $100.
Smoking Marijuana While Driving (Vehicle Code 23221)
It is illegal for a juvenile to consume marijuana while driving. You are considered a suspect if you are found driving or operating as a passenger while consuming marijuana. If you are convicted for the first time, you will be charged with an infraction and be required to pay a fine of $100.
Find An Riverside DUI Attorney Near Me
Underage DUI is a criminal offense that carries severe penalties and could significantly affect your life. That is why it is essential to reach out to a skilled criminal defense attorney if you are under 21 years and facing DUI charges. The whole process can be complicated and overwhelming, and having an attorney to help you navigate through the process and fight for your justice can save you a lot of stress. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are ready to listen to you and devise a defense strategy. Call us at 951-946-6366 if you are in Riverside, CA.