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The Consequences of Underage Drinking in California

Underage drinking is hardly a rare occurrence in the United States. In fact, according to the CDC, around 11% of all the alcohol in consumed in America was drunk by people who were under 21. Despite the sense we often get that underage drinking is normal or not a very serious offense, when people under 21 get caught drinking or buying alcohol, there can face serious legal consequences that can potentially impact their lives for years.

Violations of California Underage Drinking Laws

California’s underage drinking laws are designed to make it illegal for anyone under 21 to consume alcohol. But you do not have to be caught drunk to get into trouble. A person under 21 will be considered in violation of the law for purchasing alcohol, for attempting to purchase alcohol, for possessing alcohol, or for having a fake ID. This means you can get in trouble for having a fake ID or possessing alcohol even if you never took a single sip.

Penalties for Underage Drinking-Related Infractions

If you are caught violating any of California’s underage drinking laws, the consequences can include fines, court-ordered community service, and in some cases jail time. In addition, though, it is possible to have your driver’s license suspended for a year. Your driver’s license may be suspended even if at the time that you were caught attempting to buy alcohol, buying alcohol, holding a fake ID or possessing alcohol, you were nowhere near a car, and had no intention of driving a car. In fact, even minors who have yet to get their driver’s license at the time of the infraction can find their driving privileges negatively impacted because your ability to obtain a driver’s license can be suspended for a year.

In cases where the minor in question is found to be a repeat offender, the severity of the penalties will increase and can include larger fines, and more court-ordered hours of community service.

It is also important to understand that being found guilty as a minor in possession of alcohol, or other related crime can stay on a person’s record.

DUI’s and Underage Drinking – Zero Tolerance in California

Most people have heard the number .08% in reference to drunk driving laws. In every state, it is illegal for anyone to drink with a blood alcohol concentration level over .08%. The number goes down to .04% for drivers who are operating commercial vehicles. Of course, those numbers only apply to drivers over the age of 21. When a driver is under the legal drinking age and caught with any alcohol in their system, they can be found guilty of a DUI. Getting a DUI as an underage driver can lead to license suspensions of up to 3 years.

Zero Tolerance is a serious charge with both the California Criminal Courts, but also the California Department of Motor Vehicles.  Before drivers reach the age of 21 they are on a “provisional license”, which has more regulations attached to it. The regulation that applies to drinking and driving is “Zero-Tolerance” standard for alcohol when operating a motor vehicle. Simply put, no alcohol in their system is allowed.

Another key factor to note is that it is a violation for any person under 21 to refuse to submit to a preliminary alcohol screening test. In the event that an underage driver refuses to take a blood-alcohol test, is considered the same as admitting guilt.

To avoid a suspension or revocation of a driver license in these situations is to schedule, conduct, and win a “Zero-Tolerance” hearing at the DMV driver safety office.

If you or your loved one was arrested for a crime related to underage drinking, it is possible to fight the charges in order to lower the penalties or avoid them altogether. An experienced attorney will be able to answer your questions, advise you on possible ways to fight the charges, and explain how the juvenile justice system handles these types of cases.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.