Explaining the Driving Under the Influence Law in California
A Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge happens when a person is caught by the police for having consumed alcohol or illegal drugs, or a combination of both while driving a vehicle. In California, it is not necessary for there to be alcohol or drugs within the vehicle for an officer to charge you with a DUI, you just need to be found ‘under the influence’ of one or more of these substances to be charged. California’s Vehicle Code 23152 defines the illegality of operating a vehicle while having alcohol in your body. While adults over 21 years old are allowed to have a certain percentage of up to 0.079% alcohol per weight contained in their bloodstream, the law is much more stringent for those under 21.
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California's DUI Law For Underage Drivers
California has a so-called 'Zero Tolerance' policy for drivers under the age of 21 if they are caught under the influence of alcohol while driving. Under 21 drivers who get charged with a DUI face the same adult penalties and possibly more. Depending on the level of blood alcohol content (BAC) found in your body, you will face a progressively higher criminal penalty. Let’s look at what these different levels and penalties mean for you:
- 01% BAC or higher: Because of the ‘zero tolerance’ law in California, anyone under the age of 21 who is found guilty of having a BAC of 0.01% will lose their driver’s license for a year. Nonetheless, this DUI charge of having a BAC of between 0.01 and 0.049 percent is not criminal, and you will not need to spend any time in jail or have a DUI on your record.
- 05% BAC or higher: This level of BAC carries a more significant charge for drivers under the age of 21 (though not illegal for drivers over 21). This charge is commonly called the ‘Underage DUI’ and does count as a DUI on your driving and criminal record. While you won’t be facing jail time for this conviction, your license will be suspended for a year; you’ll be fined $100 and have to pay for and attend a DUI course for three months.
- 08% BAC or higher: At this level, drivers that are under or over the age of 21 will face serious criminal charges. The fines and court fees could add up to thousands of dollars, and you could face jail time or juvenile custody of up to six months. You will also likely need to pay for and attend a DUI course lasting three to nine months. Your driver’s license will be suspended, and you will be on probation for years.
- Impaired driving: This DUI is not always tied to the BAC percentage in your body. If the officer finds you driving dangerously or serving due to the existence of alcohol in your system, they can charge you with a DUI. The penalties associated with impaired driving are the same as those for having a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
It is also important to note that driving with a BAC of 0.01 percent or higher is illegal for those currently on DUI probation.
Explaining Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
The alcohol percentage (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) in someone’s bloodstream is their BAC. For example, if you have one part of alcohol for every 1000 parts blood, then your BAC is 0.10 percent. Below is a guideline for how your body might feel and what effects you might experience based on your BAC:
- 01-0.03% BAC: Besides feeling a slight elevation or change in your state of mind, you probably won’t notice any effects. However, if you are less than 21 years old, California law considers you to be legally impaired, so it is illegal to drive or bike at this point.
- 04-0.06% BAC: Your body might feel warm or relaxed, and your reasoning and memory could be slightly impaired.
- 07-0.09% BAC: At this more serious BAC, you might lose your capability to balance, see, speak, and conduct yourself normally. Crossing the 0.08% BAC limit for all drivers is taken very seriously by law enforcement regardless of age.
- 10-0.12% BAC: Your perception of judgment and motor coordination abilities will be severely impaired. You may also be slurring your speech.
- 13%+: At thirteen percent and beyond, you will experience very serious consequences and effects of alcohol in your system. You can find more details regarding the health and legal consequences of alcohol consumption at Stanford University's page on alcohol and drug use.
For everyone, and for new drivers, especially, it is very important to be aware of your consumption habits and how alcohol affects your mind and body. Don’t drink and drive.
Look At The Facts: Teen Drunk Driving Statistics
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that one out of ten high school teenagers drinks and drives. This is a deadly statistic because the CDC also predicts that young drivers (between the ages of 16 and 20 years old) who have a BAC of 0.08% or higher are 17x likelier to die in auto accidents than those who don't drive under the influence of alcohol. Even without alcohol involved, teenage drivers are typically less experienced behind the wheel and are three times likelier to be involved in a fatal crash than experienced drivers.
While the percentage of high school teenagers that drive under the influence of alcohol shrank by 54% between 1991 and 2012, data shows that one out of 10 high school teens drink and drive.
Every weekend in the United States, car crashes cause the death of one teenager per hour on average. Almost half of these cases (45%) involve the consumption of alcohol.
Eighty-five out of every 100 high school teenagers who reported driving under the influence of alcohol also admit to having binge drank (defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in less than two or three hours.
The CDC stands behind zero-tolerance policies, such as the law in California to help prevent youth from getting behind the wheel after drinking.
Additional Consequences For Those Under 21
Being convicted of a DUI can bear many costly consequences for a teenager as well as their family. Without considering emotional or psychological strain, the financial costs of a guilty conviction of a DUI for a driver under the age of 21 can be significant. Let’s take a look at some of the potential incurred costs of this situation:
- Two points will automatically be added to the youth’s driving record for 13 subsequent years, which will significantly increase auto insurance costs ($40,000 estimated)
- The required DUI classes ($650)
- Fees for a towed vehicle as well as mandatory storage for a minimum of five days ($685 or $137/day)
- Mandatory fines and attorney fees ($4000)
- Fee to reissue a driver’s license ($100)
This estimate totaling $45,435 can easily cripple the wellbeing of any working family. Not included in the estimate are possible medical or hospitalization bills for the teenager involved or any other parties that were hurt as a result of the accident. A lawsuit from an injured victim or their family could also increase the financial toll significantly.
The mental and psychological well being of the teenager charged with DUI the CDC reports that 85% of teenagers who drive under the influence of alcohol are binge drinkers, the risk of mental health issues greatly increases. The peer-reviewed Journal of Abnormal Psychology finds that more than 37% of alcohol abusers are afflicted by mental health disorders. These striking statistics show that teenagers who are caught drinking and driving likely abuse alcohol by binge drinking, have a mental health issue, or both. Combined with the stress of being charged with a DUI and possibly having injured another person, the psychological toll for the teenager involved is hard to quantify. Everyone deserves a trusted professional to talk to them through difficult circumstances, especially young people, and Leah Legal has the experience and passion for helping you and your family through this trying time.
A DUI Can Affect College, Financial Aid, and Job Options
While the Common App for college decided to stop asking students to specify whether or not they have a criminal record, certain individual colleges and universities still ask you to explain such past behavior. Both misdemeanor and felony convictions are considered to be crimes, while administrative offenses and infractions are usually not. While a DUI conviction on your record won't automatically disqualify your application for admission or scholarship to most universities, it can be considered and might weaken your chances of acceptance.
A school can reject your application due to the DUI on your record without justifying or letting you know why you were denied. Even if the school doesn't have an explicit policy excluding those with criminal records, on a case by case basis, the admissions office at the school can reject you.
A DUI will not affect your eligibility for California specific financial aid programs such as ‘Cal Grants' and the 'Middle-Class Scholarship' unless you are currently incarcerated.
The more serious DUI convictions can be detrimental for financial aid and student loan applications. Your federal financial aid options will be significantly reduced if you have a criminal DUI on your record, that is if you were caught and convicted of driving with a 0.05% BAC or higher.
If you are currently serving in a federal or state prison, you will not be eligible to apply for a Pell Grant or to apply for federal student loans. Nonetheless, you are eligible to apply for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). Your chances of being awarded an FSEOG will be hindered because most of the awardees have also gotten a Pell Grant, for which you would be ineligible. You are still eligible to apply for the Federal Work-Study program, though you would need to be out of jail to begin work-study at a college or university.
If you are incarcerated in county jail, you aren't eligible to apply for federal student loans; however, you are eligible for Pell Grants, FSEOG, and the Federal Work-Study program. Your chance to win one of these grants may be reduced, but are still possible in this situation.
The good news is that if you are released from jail before you are set to begin university or college classes, then the restrictions on these grants and programs don't apply to you.
You are still eligible for federal student aid for most DUI circumstances. You would only lose eligibility from a DUI if it were considered a felony. A DUI felony conviction in the incident, someone was injured or killed, if you had three or more previous DUI convictions, or lastly if you already had a DUI felony in the past.
Some universities and colleges have honor codes to which the students swear an oath and must abide by specific codes of conduct. In most cases, criminal activity, such as a DUI counts as a violation of the honor code. While you might not be expelled for violating the honor code, but you may have to face an internal board made up of students or faculty to explain and justify your actions. For a first time violation of the honor code, most colleges and universities mandate lesser punishments as in probation, an academic warning, or several community service hours. It is always wise to be aware of the details of honor codes and codes of conduct of the institution you attend so as not to put your education or career in jeopardy.
What You Should Do If Pulled Over
Most importantly, stay calm and pull your vehicle to the nearest roadside shoulder to you while using your blinker to indicate to the officer that you’re pulling over. Keep your seatbelt on and remain patient. When the police officer asks you to do so, hand them your driver’s license and documentation for registration and insurance. Regardless of one’s immigration status, an AB California resident’s license should be accepted.
Be as respectful as possible to the arresting officer and don’t offer any reason for them to add any potential charges. Do not play loud music or offend the officer by attempting to make a bribe.
Keep your car from being cluttered with unnecessary objects and debris as some officers will make a judgment call to search your vehicle if they find it looking suspicious.
If requested, let the officer administer a chemical DUI test. Otherwise, you’ll be at risk of the officer suspending your license.
If the officer arrests you and is going to take you to jail, ask to have a friend with a driver’s license take your car away or if you can park it in a secure area so you won’t have to pay for towing or impound costs.
If you are let go with or without a ticket, take the time you need to put away your license and other documents. Breath calmly, and when you’re ready, follow normal traffic laws by turning on your signal and safely merge into the driving lane.
If you received a ticket, read it carefully and respond to the ticket or citation well before the stated deadline on the document. Failure to do so in the allotted time will result in costly fines. Your options in responding to the citation or ticket are admitting guilt to the charge, which requires you to pay a fine, attend DUI or traffic school (usually incurring an additional cost), or fighting the charge in court. Hinging on the severity of the charge, you may want to consult a lawyer to advise you or speak on your behalf.
Your Legal Course of Action and How a Lawyer Can Defend You
For a first time DUI, an experienced lawyer has a good chance of getting your charge to reduce or dropped. The more details of the situation that you can remember and share with your attorney, the more success you can have. This could mean anything from recalling what the officer said to you or how they tested your sobriety or intoxication levels, which could all factor into the strategic defense to help you avoid losing your license or needing to go to DUI school. For example, many women charged with a DUI due to failing a breathalyzer test can have the charge overturned because these tests are calibrated for the average man, not woman, so false BAC readouts are common.
Contact a DUI Attorney Near Me
If you or a teenager in your family has been charged with a DUI, an experienced DUI attorney will fight to get the best result in your case. At Leah Legal, we will make sure that you are not wrongfully convicted of a crime and put you in the best position to succeed. If you are located in Van Nuys and the greater Los Angeles area, contact our Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 818-484-1100 and let us fight for you.