Underage DUI In California: Laws and Penalties

Understanding Zero Tolerance Laws in California

California enforces zero tolerance laws to address underage drinking and driving, prohibiting individuals under 21 from operating a vehicle with any detectable alcohol in their system. These laws reflect a stringent approach to prevent the risks associated with underage drinking.

Under California’s zero tolerance policy, it is a criminal offense for underage drivers to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or higher. This threshold is significantly lower than the standard DUI limit for drivers 21 and over, underscoring the state’s commitment to ensuring the safety of young drivers and the public.

Even consuming a single alcoholic beverage can elevate an underage driver’s BAC to 0.01% or more, potentially resulting in a DUI charge. The intent behind these laws is clear: to deter underage drinking and driving by imposing strict penalties for any level of alcohol consumption by underage drivers.

California’s Approach to Underage DUI Offenses

In Los Angeles, law enforcement will conduct chemical and field sobriety tests if they suspect DUI. These tests, including Breathalyzer, blood, and urine tests, determine BAC levels and drug presence. California’s implied consent law requires drivers to undergo these tests; refusal leads to license suspension, fines, or arrest, and does not exempt from DUI charges.

Underage drivers with a BAC above the state’s zero tolerance limit but below 0.08% face misdemeanor charges, usually processed in juvenile or family courts. A BAC of 0.08% or higher subjects underage drivers to adult DUI charges, with more severe consequences.


Underage drivers in California who refuse to undergo a chemical test face severe consequences under the state’s “zero tolerance” law. The refusal leads to a driver’s license suspension ranging from 1 to 3 years, depending on the individual’s prior convictions for similar offenses.

  • A first refusal results in a 1-year license suspension.
  • A second refusal within 10 years triggers a 2-year driver’s license revocation.
  • A third or subsequent refusal within 10 years leads to a 3-year driver’s license revocation.


An underage DUI conviction in Los Angeles carries significant repercussions that can impact a young person’s future. Specifically, those under 18 or with a learner’s permit may experience delays in obtaining their driver’s license. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) enforces the penalties for underage DUI, requiring those charged to request a DMV hearing within 10 days of arrest to contest license suspension.

Penalties for underage DUI conviction may include:

  • Vehicle confiscation.
  • License suspension for up to one year.
  • Fines amounting to thousands of dollars.
  • Mandatory attendance in drug/alcohol abuse and driving safety courses.

Additionally, individuals under 21 who undergo a chemical test and register a BAC of 0.01 percent or higher face a one-year driver’s license suspension, or a one-year delay in obtaining driving privileges if they do not yet possess a California driver’s license.

Legal Defenses Against Underage DUI Charges

Facing underage DUI charges in California doesn’t mean conviction is inevitable. Several legal defenses can be employed, including:

  • Inaccurate BAC Testing: Challenges to the accuracy of Breathalyzer or blood tests can question the validity of the DUI charge.
  • Unlawful Traffic Stop: If the initial traffic stop lacked legal justification, evidence obtained during the stop can be deemed inadmissible.
  • Improper Procedure: Highlighting errors in the DUI testing process or handling of evidence may undermine the prosecution’s case.

These defenses emphasize the importance of a skilled DUI defense attorney in navigating underage DUI charges and protecting the future of the accused.

Future Impact of Underage DUI Convictions

An underage DUI conviction in California affects more than just the present. It can:

  • Limit college admission and scholarship opportunities.
  • Reduce employment prospects, especially in roles requiring driving.
  • Increase car insurance premiums or lead to denial of coverage.

Rehabilitation Programs for Underage DUI Offenders

California offers rehabilitation programs for underage DUI offenders aimed at education and prevention of future offenses. These programs typically include:

  • Alcohol and Drug Education: Courses designed to inform offenders about the effects of substance abuse.
  • Counseling Services: Individual or group counseling to address underlying issues related to substance use.
  • Community Service: Opportunities to give back to the community while learning the consequences of DUI.

Charged With an Underage DUI? Contact An Experienced Defense Attorney Today

Navigating the legal challenges that come with an underage DUI arrest can be overwhelming, especially for first-time offenders or those who have faced charges before. Recognizing the increased severity courts may apply to subsequent offenses, it’s crucial to have expert legal representation. At The Law Offices of Arash Hashemi, we offer a team of dedicated attorneys prepared to delve into your case. With a deep understanding of criminal law and a proven track record of negotiating favorable outcomes before trial, we’re equipped to handle the complexities of your situation. If you’re dealing with underage DUI charges in the Los Angeles area, don’t hesitate to reach out for the support you need. Contact Attorney Arash Hashemi today at (310) 448-1529
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