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A news story that recently made headlines involved a four vehicle crash that occurred in Van Nuys in which five people were injured, two critically. The collision occurred when a vehicle driven by a 19-year-old ran a red light and hit an SUV, causing it to flip. The 19-year-old driver was later discovered to be under the influence of alcohol.
Underage DUI offenses that result in injuries or death can carry serious consequences for the drivers involved. In California, the legal drinking age is 21 and there is a zero tolerance policy in effect that prohibits anyone who is under the age of 21 from driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system. This means that under California Vehicle Code Section 23136, drivers who have blood alcohol contents that are below the usual legal limit of 0.08 percent would risk losing their license for a year if they are discovered to have any alcohol in their system. The driver would not be eligible for a restricted driver’s license during this period.
In the example cited above, the driver is 19-year-old and could be charged criminally with a DUI offense in adult court. The driver could be charged with violations of California Vehicle Code Section 23153, DUI Causing Injury. When those under the age of 21 are charged with DUI offenses, judges and prosecutors are often very alarmed given the defendant’s age and the fact that he or she broke the law twice; by illegally drinking and then by driving under the influence.
Penalties for underage DUI offenders may often be more severe than their adult counterparts because of this. Judges may require an underage defendant to complete a longer alcohol and drug education program and may require that he or she complete extra community labor or community service hours. In many cases, judges and prosecutors require youthful offenders to attend and complete programs like the Hospital and Morgue (“HAM”) and the MADD Victim Impact Panel (“VIP”) programs, which are designed to educate DUI offenders about the risks of impaired driving.
If any of the victims of the DUI collision die as a result of their injuries, the underage defendant could be charged criminally with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and or even DUI murder.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under California Penal Code Section 191.5(b) can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor and requires that the defendant was negligent in operating a vehicle while under the influence and this negligent act or omission directly led to the death of another. Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under California Penal Code Section 191.5(a), which is always a felony, requires that the negligent act or omission was “grossly negligent” and went beyond ordinary negligence.
DUI murder can be charged where the prosecutor can demonstrate that the defendant consciously ignored a known risk when he or she elected to drive drunk and subsequently killed someone else. Prosecutors typically satisfy this requirement by showing that the defendant was previously convicted of a DUI offense and had received a “Watson advisement” describing the danger that impaired driving poses to human life.