THE DMV SYSTEM: Driving with an Alcohol Level of .01% or Greater
The State of California (through the DMV) has taken an extremely hard stance against those under the age for drinking (21) using alcohol and driving. These "zero tolerance" laws were enacted with the hopes of curbing underage drinking. Simply stated, persons under 21 years of age cannot drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system (.01% or greater). Because of this, if you are stopped for an alcohol-related offense, and you are under 21, you do not have the option of refusing the handheld Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test, an option you would have if over 21 years old.
Depending on why you were pulled over, you may or may not be charged with a crime if your alcohol level was below .05%. However, if alcohol is detected (of .01% or greater) you will surely have to contend with the DMV Administrative Per Se hearing to determine if your driving privilege should be suspended for one year. Even if you do suffer the one year suspension you may be eligible for the "critical need hardship license" which would allow you to drive to and from work and/or school only. The DMV is hesitant to grant such a restricted license when you are under 21, however this office has had considerable success in obtaining the "hardship" license for our underage clients.
THE COURT SYSTEM: Driving With an Alcohol level of .05% or Greater
If you are under the age of 21, you can be prosecuted for either DUI as a full fledged adult (with full adult penalties) or for the lesser separate offense of being under 21 years of age and driving with an alcohol level of .05% or greater. If the case against you is weak (other than the low blood alcohol level) the prosecuting attorney may (the decision is all in their discretion) elect prosecution under this statue as an infraction or simply dismiss the case (they can also charge you with any number of traffic infractions, commonly known as traffic tickets, depending on the reason justifying your stop). If reduced to a moving violation you may even be eligible for traffic school.
The penalties for being under 21 and driving with an alcohol level of .05% or greater are commonly less than a DUI. Most often the court will order a fine, attendance in a driving under the influence class, (sometimes weekly AA meetings are ordered), and a one year suspension of the driving privilege and possibly community service.
Possession of Alcohol in Vehicle: Person Under 21
It is illegal for a minor to knowingly drive any motor vehicle carrying any alcoholic beverage, unless the person is accompanied by an adult, employed by a licensee under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, or following the reasonable instructions of his or her parent or legal guardian or other adult representative. Violation of this law is a misdemeanor.
The penalties include a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment, and a one year suspension of the driving privilege.
The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not to be relied upon as legal advice. Viewing this website does not create an attorney-client relationship with P. David Wool. Legal representation will only be established upon receipt of a legal services agreement and full compliance with its terms. The information contained on this website is based on current California state law only and can change over time. Laws vary from state to state. Do not rely upon the content of this website as legal advice. Contact a lawyer at once if you have a legal matter.