In California, it is considered unlawful for anyone to operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or any combination of the two. When the driver is under 21, though, different charges and DUI penalties apply. If you get an underage DUI, you need a Napa under-21 DUI lawyer.
The Law Office of Conor Bell serves Napa and Northern California in various criminal defense areas, including DUI and underage DUI. Our attorney knows the law and can clearly interpret it for his clients so they understand exactly the charges they are facing. He works tirelessly for his clients in hopes of bettering the outcome of every case he takes on.
California law has zero tolerance for the consumption of alcohol by drivers under the age of 21. These motorists are not permitted to operate a vehicle while having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of higher than 0.01%. They can be charged with several variations of a DUI, depending on their BAC.
If an underage person gets caught drunk driving, and their BAC is less than 0.04%, they will be charged with a zero-tolerance DUI. They will not incur jail time or traffic points on their driver’s license, but they will lose their license for one year and be required to pay fines of up to $250.
If they are driving with a BAC from 0.05% to 0.07%, they will be charged with an underage DUI. This charge carries a one-year license suspension, fines of $100 to $300, and two traffic points added to their driving record. Additionally, drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 must enroll in an alcohol education course for drivers, at the driver’s expense, when convicted of an underage DUI.
A standard DUI for under 21 drivers will incur:
Furthermore, this is a misdemeanor instead of an infraction. It also requires the attendance of a DUI program. Additionally, the driver may be required to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in their car. Both will be at the driver’s expense.
In some cases, drivers can be charged with all three of the above DUIs, though it will only count as one DUI on their record. Penalties, traffic points, and fees, however, will be stacked.
Even if you aren’t driving while drinking in Napa, CA, simply having possession of alcohol in your vehicle if you are under 21 is illegal. You could face fines of up to $1,000, a 30-day impoundment of your vehicle, and a one-year license suspension if you are caught with alcohol and are underage.
If you are pulled over, under the implied consent law, California requires anyone who operates a car to submit to a chemical test to determine DUI. Refusal to take the test can result in a suspension of driving privileges for a minimum of one year. If a driver commits a DUI that contributes to the injury or death of another person, DUI charges can be upgraded to vehicular manslaughter or even DUI murder in more serious cases, regardless of the driver’s age.
If you get a zero-tolerance DUI, an underage DUI, or a standard DUI, you may have a chance of getting your charges minimized or dropped if you have a legitimate DUI defense. A good Napa DUI attorney can help you determine if you have a valid defense. They can also strategize an approach for your case.
There are some common defense approaches that Napa DUI lawyers can use to help their clients diminish charges or get them dropped altogether. These defenses against DUI charges are not guaranteed, but in many cases, one of the DUI defense strategies below can be effective in optimizing the outcome of a case. Answer the following questions to preliminarily gauge if one of these might work for you.
By asking this question, you can oftentimes establish the fact that the initial encounter between yourself and the police was unwarranted. The police must have a reasonable suspicion to approach you with the assumption that you are breaking the law. For example, if you were swerving in the lanes, then the police had a valid reason to pull you over.
However, if you weren’t breaking any observable laws when you were approached by law enforcement, this could very well improve your chances of getting your charges dropped. It is against the law for law enforcement to arrest someone for DUI without any reasonable grounds to do so.
To arrest someone for a DUI, the police must actually observe the driver driving a car. If you can prove that there is at least a 51% chance that you were not driving, you could potentially get your charges diminished.
This is a much stronger defense when you can prove that someone else was actually driving. In this case, you would have to have another driver testify that they were, in fact, driving, and you were not. If someone else saw you driving, however, even if the police did not, this would not be a valid strategy for your case.
It could be a legitimate defense if someone was riding with you in the car, drinking alcohol while you were driving. While this violates the open container law, it can exonerate you from driving under the influence. Of course, your passenger must admit that they were drinking the alcohol and not deny the fact that it was theirs at the time of the arrest, which is often the instinct of most passengers.
This is a tougher defense for underage drinkers because they should not have been drinking in the first place. Nevertheless, in some cases, it can be a viable defense to prove that you or someone else was facing an emergency and you were forced to drive out of necessity, even though you were under the influence.
This is a much better defense if you indicated at the time of arrest that you are involved in an emergency situation. It doesn’t work as well if the emergency is identified later on in court but was not mentioned during your initial interaction with the police.
When identifiable by a qualified DUI lawyer, this is certainly a valid DUI defense. There are many times when police reports have typos or other errors, or they might be missing important information or signatures that corroborate the arrest. If there are any discrepancies in the police report that your lawyer can identify, you could have a strong defense for your case.
The California Vehicle Code requires that blood draws be taken by licensed or qualified individuals, such as:
At the very least, your test should have been supervised by one of these professionals.
If the police report indicates that the individual who conducted the test was not certified and their professional qualifications did not meet the standards of California law, then further investigation could determine that your arrest is not valid.
There may also be lab errors, discrepancies in the toxicology report, or even a mix-up of blood samples. Retesting could prove that the test results in question were not taken from your blood sample. A retest carries the cost of an additional testing fee for the driver, but it very well could avoid a DUI conviction.
California law states that a breathalyzer test must be administered following a 15-minute observation period. This period is important in providing accurate test results, as anything that’s in the mouth prior to testing within 15 minutes could alter the results of the test. Smoking, eating, or drinking within the 15 minutes before a test is given negates the results of the test.
Furthermore, at the start time of the observation period, the subject’s mouth must be checked, and the time must be recorded. If there’s any question or interruption during the observation period, it must be reinitiated with a new mouth check and recorded start time. Failure of law enforcement to comply with the protocol for the 15-minute observation rule warrants a judge to throw a case out.
Breathalyzer machines must be approved devices for their results to be accepted in court. Furthermore, they must receive regular maintenance and be calibrated properly prior to being used to test individuals. Calibration and maintenance reports from the testing agency should be available to individuals arrested by using breathalyzer test results.
Also, certain machines often used in California can be manipulated by the police officer at the time of testing, which makes results from these tests easily disproved as valid indicators of BAC in arrested individuals.
This defense often works well when a driver just drank alcohol prior to driving their vehicle and didn’t have far to go. It also is only useful in lessening charges in underage drinking cases. If you were stopped and only had a limited distance left to travel, you would have likely made it to your destination before your BAC rose to illegal amounts.
Once you were stopped, questioned, given a 15-minute observation, and eventually tested, your BAC may have risen to a level that is higher than the legal limit for driving. This defense requires:
This defense is also well-supported when the driver goes on to be arrested at the station and is tested again to show an even higher limit, which can prove that their BAC was on a rising slope.
California law establishes a three-hour window for a BAC test result to hold up in court. If an arresting officer does not test your BAC within three hours, the test results are inadmissible in court. However, even test results from a test that was conducted within the three-hour window can still be questioned for validity, though this is not so easy in underage DUI charges.
There are many factors that must align for the strategy to work, such as:
One common mistake that drivers make is when they are approached by law enforcement while drinking in their car but not while driving. Afraid that they are breaking the law and might get a DUI, they deny that they were drinking in their parked car. This can be detrimental to a defense because if a BAC test result shows that you were drinking, using the defense that you were drinking after you turned the ignition off cannot be validated.
In some cases, law enforcement assumes that a driver is under the influence and never bothers to test them. However, they still get hit with a refusal to test charge. Furthermore, if the arresting officer does not follow protocol and fails to warn an arrested individual that they will lose their license for a year or more for refusing to provide a sample, the charges can be dropped.
If an individual was incapable of understanding the officer’s warnings due to extenuating circumstances, such as an injury, or if other required information was misrepresented by the officer, then you were not refusing to test under legal pretenses. In other words, you must refuse to test within the legal parameters of the law. Successful refusal defense strategies often end in a plea bargain, but even a plea deal is still very difficult to nail down, especially with underage charges.
If you’re facing underage DUI charges, you should consult with a Napa under-21 DUI lawyer to discuss your case and the potential for a defense strategy to minimize charges or get them dropped altogether. The Law Office of Conor Bell can help. Contact a member of our experienced and knowledgeable legal staff to learn how our law firm can contribute to your case.