The law in California regarding underage (someone less than the age of twenty one) individuals, is that they are not permitted to drink any alcohol and therefore they can not drive a motor vehicle with alcohol in their system. This law, know as the “Zero Tolerance Law” is designed to deter and punish under age drivers who drink alcohol and drive, because they are typically the most dangerous drivers and are involved in the most accidents.
Young people who are caught drinking alcohol and driving will lose their driving privileges for one year and are also subject to criminal charges.
Many of the cases that I have defended over the course of the past twenty five years, I see the police pulling someone over who is under the age of 21 and once they determine that they have drank some alcohol, they take their driver's license and car away from them and make them walk home.
The license is then sent to the DMV with a report that shows the person was drinking an driving. It is up to the individual police officer whether they actually give the person a ticket and make them appear in court or arrest them or hold them for a period of time and then cite them out to the court in the jurisdiction where they were arrested.
DMV Administrative Hearing
Once the person's drivers license is taken away from them and sent to the DMV, then they are entitled to an administrative hearing, where it will be determined if they violated the law and will lose their license for a year. You are entitled to an attorney and the attorney can fight to try and save your driver's license. This is typically not an easy proposition because if you had any alcohol in your system, were under the age of 21 and the police saw you driving a car, then the DMV will have a strong case to suspend your drivers license.
Measuring Under 21 Blood Alcohol
How is a person under 21 blood alcohol measured? California and specifically Los Angeles permits law enforcement to use the Preliminary Alcohol Screening Device (PAS) in order to measure the blood alcohol level of a person who is under the age of 21 (this is a small hand held device that most police units carry with them). Even though the PAS is not one of the most accurate tools to measure a person's blood alcohol, for purposes of seeing whether a person who is under 21 has any alcohol in their system, it is permissible.
The underage “Zero Tolerance Law” is an interesting concept because it does not necessarily require that a young person is so intoxicated that they can not safely drive a motor vehicle, which is required in adult DUI cases. It simply requires that someone under 21 be driving a car with any alcohol level in them when they are pulled over by the police. This makes it fairly easy for the police to detect whether someone under the age of 21 has violated the law.
Of course this issue can be complicated when someone under 21 has a very small about of mouth alcohol that was not caused by drinking an alcohol drink. There are a number of substances that can cause a person to register on the PAS device who has not intentionally drank alcohol. As with anything in criminal defense, when your freedom is on the line, you should definitely consult with and hire a skilled criminal defense attorney to help you.