The importance of a driver’s license simply can’t be overstated, especially for young, freedom-seeking Californians. Think of all the things you couldn’t do if you weren’t able to drive. Sure, you could take the bus, but is that really a good use of your time? Not really. That’s why it is so important for you to understand the very serious consequences of being charged with a DUI and what the no-tolerance law is intended to do. You could be right in the crosshairs and not even know it.
California’s No-Tolerance Law is Not About Drunk Driving
The California no-tolerance law (found in California Vehicle Code Section 23136) clearly outlines the legal definition of an over-the-limit blood-alcohol content (BAC) as “a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent or greater, as measured by a preliminary alcohol screening test or other chemical test.” No one is going to argue that a BAC of 0.01% will have a profound effect on the ability to operate a vehicle. So why is the law so concerned with BAC at this level?
The answer is really simple. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcoholic beverages in the state of California. If you register a BAC of 0.01%, lawmakers believe that it is a good indication of having ingested an alcoholic beverage. And since police officers probably aren’t going to catch many minors actually consuming an alcoholic beverage, the no-tolerance law is one viable method of cracking down on underage drinking.
Understanding Implied Consent
If you are thinking that you can just refuse to take the field sobriety test if you are pulled over, California has a provision for that as well. It is called the implied consent law (California Vehicle Code Section 23621). It basically means that if you are driving in California, you give a police officer who has probable cause to believe that you have been driving under the influence the right to administer a field sobriety test. The only time this isn’t applicable is if you have a medical condition that would put you in physical danger due to the testing (i.e., hemophiliacs are not required to undergo blood testing).
Although the penalty for refusing a required sobriety test is lower than that of a DUI conviction, it still requires a mandatory one-year suspension of your license on your first offense – even if you are not convicted of the DUI! In addition, it may actually hurt your defense because the prosecution will argue that you refused the test because it would show that you were indeed guilty.
No-Tolerance Penalties for Under-21 Drivers
The most important thing to realize about the no-tolerance law is that you don’t have to be drinking to be charged. Over-the-counter mouthwashes and cough syrup can contain enough alcohol to result in a failed alcohol test under the zero-tolerance policy. That means that if you have a cold or are really hygienic and use mouthwash before heading off to work in the morning, you could be technically in violation of the no-tolerance law.
The penalties for under-21 drivers vary by the individual case. In general, first offenses with a BAC lower than 0.05% are treated as probationary cases with minimal fines and court fees. Offenders with a BAC of 0.05% to 0.07% can face fines of $100, court-ordered treatment, participation in youthful drunk-driving visitation programs, and the loss of their license for one year. Penalties become harsher for repeat offenders – up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. As long as the BAC level is below 0.08%, the incident is considered an infraction instead of a misdemeanor. A BAC above 0.08% is treated as an adult offense.
No-Tolerance Penalties for Under-18 Drivers
For drivers under the age of 18, the no-tolerance policy includes extra penalties. In addition to all of the potential punishments, fines, and court charges that the under-21 driver faces, drivers under 18 years old may have their licenses revoked until the age of 18 if that time period is greater than one year (otherwise, the one-year suspension applies). The judge in the case may also impound the driver’s vehicle.
No-Tolerance Penalties Beyond the Initial DUI Charge
In addition to a DUI charge, the prosecution may bring charges of possession of alcohol in a car if there are open or unopened containers present in the vehicle. This is a separate charge from the no-tolerance DUI charge. If there is a legal-age adult in the car, this charge will only apply if the underage party is physically holding the container. However, if there is no of-age individual in the vehicle, everyone in the car may be charged with an offense – even if they didn’t know it was there!
For the driver, the car may be impounded for up to one month, their license may be suspended for a minimum of one year, and they may get up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. In addition to all of this, you must report any DUI conviction (even no-tolerance) on college and employment applications.
The good news is that there are several defenses available in these cases. The best thing you can do if you get pulled over for an apparent no-tolerance violation is to cooperate with the officers and contact a lawyer with experience in this area of law if necessary. By refusing to take a sobriety test, you could lose your license even if you have done nothing else wrong.
By Ted Burgess