DUI Arrests for Teens

Parent Q&A

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  • My 17 year old was ticketed for having alcohol in her possession.  It is a misdemeanor, not an infraction and we are in Contra Costa County.  I am completely fine with most of the consequences ($250 fine for first offense, community service and alcohol abuse classes).  Unfortunately, if she is convicted, it does go on her permanent record as a misdemeanor AND she will lose her driver's license for one year.  

    Does anyone have any advice for us?   My ideal outcome is that we agree with the judge that she accepts all the consequences in exchange for dismissing the ticket.  Is this even possible?  Do we need a lawyer?  Any advice from parents who have been in this position would be incredibly helpful.  


    So sorry that your family is caught up in this.  When my son was finally arrested after breaking the law many times, it came as a relief.  He wasn't listening to us about making any changes.  He was lucky enough to get an excellent Public Defender, so there was no need to hire an attorney.  The PD wasn't just about getting my son off; he was all about getting my son to change his viewpoint and his trajectory.  The PD kept us in the loop, checked in frequently with us, and was very happy that we were involved.  I kept in close contact with both the PD and his Probation Officer.  I was grateful for the opportunity and outside motivation to help our kid change.

    The good thing about this happening now, is that your daughter will be able to get her record expunged once she completes everything and turns 18.  That way it won't stay on her record.  Our experience was with Alameda County, not Contra Costa.  My understanding is that if a kid is a first-time offender, they want them to understand the seriousness, and change right away, before the pattern or lifestyle becomes ingrained.

    Sometimes getting caught turns out to be a blessing and a real-life lesson on how the world views a crime.  Best of luck!

    I would suggest getting a lawyer.  Judge can do anything, just was you can wish for anything.  My 17 year old daughter did something dumb involving alcohol, except she was detained.  I take it your daughter was not detained?  Do you know if they will be prosecuting?   First thing is to find out if they will be prosecuting.  My daughter was extremely lucky or I should say the police were very understanding/forgiving as the ticket and police report sat in the police station for over a year and was never forwarded to the DA.  This should the outcome you and your daughter should be wishing for.  I had my daughter check with the DA once a month for the next 13 months just to make sure she was in the clear.  All I can say is thank you to the law enforcement officers for (I think) intentionally losing the ticket and paperwork.

    If your daughter is not so lucky you will probably need an attorney and get a plea deal.  What you and your daughter should be concerned about is not losing her license for a year, but what a conviction on her record will do for the rest of her life.  It will always be there.  Applying to college, getting an apartment of worse applying for a job she will have to say she was convicted of a crime.  Does your daughter have a court date?  If so the DA feels this will be an easy case to win and you will need an attorney.  Best thing you can do is stall and draw this out as long as you can with the hopes the DA will forget about it and drop it.

    When you daughter and I will assume friends were busted were they jerks to the police?  Or were they polite and respectful?  Your move right now should be to go to the police debarment with your daughter and make an appointment to see the officer and superior, possibly a sergeant or higher and inquiring about the status of the case.  You as the parent should be thanking them.  Your daughter should be very apologetic and brining a plate of chocolate chip cookies  might help.  Make now threats, just be thankful that nothing happened and that you as a parent are involved.  The older the officer the better the chances of being more understanding and more likely to lose or sit on the paperwork.

    If that doesn't work, then the following resource should answer all of your questions.  If you do have to hire an attorney do hire one in Contra Costa County who knows the DA.  
    https://sa.berkeley.edu/legal/tipsheet/alcohol  One other piece of advice I have to share is teach your daughter strength.  My daughter peers were trying to get her to steal clothing or makeup from stores.  Make sure your daughter knows these kids are not her friends and that she understands the consequences in succumbing to peer pressure.  It's not easy to do at that age.  

    Good luck.  Hopefully this was a once in a lifetime occurrence she learned her lesion and gets a pass on this one. That's the way it turned out for my daughter and the experience was actually very good for her.  Try say that when you meet with the police.  

    Yes you need a lawyer ASAP! It will be worth the money spent. My son got a DUI when he was 17 and we hired a lawyer who was able to get his record expunged which is really important as you don’t want this to go in any permanent record. Good luck! 

    I think it’s worth consulting with a lawyer! A friend of ours has a boy in college in another state & they definitely needed a lawyer! Good luck!


    Yes, I have experience with this problem. My 16 year old daughter got a MIP charge this summer. My understanding is that if she follows all the conditions of her informal probation, the misdemeanor will go off her record when she is 18. It was also a first offense for my daughter so the informal probation means it doesn't go to court and that the probation lasts 6 months. I don't think you need a lawyer. Just let her know how serious it can get if she violates the probation conditions.


    I'm a public defender; without incurring attorney's client privilege, I'd state the following as a general principle. The first answer is that it is always advisable to have an attorney to represent you in court. So much is at stake and to have a professional safeguard "due process" is very important.

    The next issue is whether your child is in juvenile or adult court. If it's the former, there may be an agreement with the court to erase the criminal records once your child completes all the conditions ordered by the court. If it's the latter, please see if she's qualified for a public defender. We handle this type of case all the time; and depending on the facts of a particular matter, we may be able to ask the DA for the following:

    1- Diversion: she will enter an agreement to complete a list of required tasks by the DA; if she does, case will be gone. If not, case will be sent back to misdemeanor court for disposition;

    2- Reduction of misdemeanor to an infraction charge; in that event, usually there's no probation.

    3- If the above options fail, consideration of entry of plea. Attorneys may negotiate for a plea agreement which entails a shorter probationary period; and/or expungement of records once she successfully completes all the probation terms and conditions. N.B  Informal/court probation (i.e. no requirement to report to a probation officer) can last from 1 to 3 years-- and expungement sometimes requires a separate petition from the defense; not automatically granted by the court upon completion of probation.

    4- Also, attorneys will be able to evaluate the facts of the case and determine if a jury trial is appropriate. We always evaluate whether the prosecution can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt prior to advising our clients whether or not a plea of guilty is proper.

    5-Notes on employment law: Please see the info on the Ca's "ban-the-box-law," which took effect on Jan.1, 2018, regarding details of the circumstances under which a person has to disclose his/her criminal records.

    I hope my words are timely and helpful.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Teen arrested and charged with DUI

Oct 2013

Any advice for parents of a 16 year old arrested for DUI in Oakland? Pulled over by HP for headlight out, officer spotted an open container. Alcohol measured at greater than 0.8. Any recommendations for an attorney? Sad and scared teen mom

Craig Pinto in El Cerrito 234-1686 is an experienced criminal defense attorney who can get you the best possible result. Be prepared to pay several thousand dollars. Hope it works out well.

call colin cooper of cooper law offices. he's the best. www.cooperdefense.com 558-8400

17-year-old's DUI arrest

Dec 2009

I have custody of my 17 year old nephew. He was sitting in his car listening to music (ignition on) and had come from a party where he drank beer. The police stopped at his car (headed to a complaint of noise from the party), and arrested him and charged him with a DUI. We know that he will lose his license for one year and we will need to go to court on the charges. I would appreciate any feedback, suggestions, information from anyone who has gone through this process before with their minor teenager. I just don't know what to expect regarding his possible type(s) of punishment and how we go about getting car insurance again after the year has passed. Any information on what I can expect is greatly appreciated. Thank you. anon

Look online on the California DMV site to see what the penalties are for a DUI for a person under 21. Also you could Google ''California DUI under age 21'' for other sites that describe all the consequences of an underage DUI (penalties, loss of license for one year, need to attend DUI classes, etc.). The easiest way to figure out the insurance consequences is to call an insurance company and ask. Clearly,after the one-year license suspension this teen's insurance rate is going to skyrocket and your current insurance company may refuse to insure him, necessitating finding another company that will. So it doesn't hurt to find out the bad news ahead of time. Anonymous

After our teen got DUI, I learned it's considered a ''lightweight'' (not that it's OK, just that I never knew it was so common). First, you do not need to hire att'y. After a few weeks (it takes awhile to get it into the system) go to 600 Washington St (Oakland), to the 2nd Flr (don't make our mistake and go to the 1st Flr Traffic Dept windows...repeated visits, useless waiting in long lines....your case will never show up on those computers.....finally someone told us it's the Upstrs counter for 'criminal' , DUI, stuff---so frustrating, but get used to it....best lesson for teen: what a pile of doo-doo for them to deal with), and they'll give the court date. Due to 18 yr old age, Court doesn't permit parents to accompany Teen up to the Judge, so prep your teen well about what to say (we didn't hire att'y, so weren't informed of this, did it on the fly, and our teen screwed it up, of course, so he had to go to court twice), about proper Plea. Guilty, unless police officer screwed up badly (which in our case, he did---municipality starts with ''A'', ends with ''Y''). DMV holds/suspends license for 1 year. Meanwhile, you must deal with transportation emergencies for one year, which occur with a busy 18 yr old housing an undeveloped frontal lobe: ours was good about biking and BART, but still there were headaches and frustrations, especially if BART shut down before our teen's partying did. Second big one: after one year, obtaining insurance. It's the insurance company that handles the paperwork with the DMV which gets back your teen's license. The DUI stays on the teen's record for 10 yrs, so the ''top'' insurers won't touch your teen for 10 yrs. There's good deals from those companies that advertise on TV--Geico, Progressive, etc. You can fill out a form online and 10 agents will call you back within 2 hours. Some were extremely nice and helpful. You'll need to self-educate about coverages actually needed, how much, etc, so you don't get clipped. I got estimates of $2K/yr, and after evaluating what we really needed, it came down to $1.2K/yr average. Also, your teen will obtain a discount on future premiums for each succeeding year they are a good driver/good grades. Good luck. ''This, too, shall pass''

Get yourself a good lawyer fast. If the car is not running and not moving, you may have a good case for a dispute since a theoretical ability to drive when the car is not in operation is not a basis for an arrest (e.g. pre-crime) and listening to music doesn't necessarily imply operation of a motor vehicle either since the key must be turned to operate the radio. Now there are gotchas here, so you must consult a lawyer.

A cop may arrest on the basis of a violation but not on the theory (like he *may* drive) of operation, and it is not the cop who determines whether he is guilty or innocent or whether a violation has truly occurred - it is the province of the Courts. Your nephew deserves proper representation in this matter.

Finally, while you may be annoyed with your nephew now please be aware that this matter will not go away - Court records are public and may impact his ability to make a living many years down the line when he's long past that annoying age. Believe me, it is worthwhile to pay the money and let a well-recommended professional attorney assist you in navigating this problem. And please don't hunt through the phone book and randomly pick out someone because they have a big ad - attorneys are expensive and you can't afford a mistake any more than you'd pick a random guy to redo your home's foundation - do your homework. Good luck Anonymous

OMG - DO NOT HIRE A LAWYER unless you are prepared to pay $60,000- $80,000. (And the odds are you still not win.) The Public Defender will do a better job then a private attorney. This is a huge money maker for attorneys and all they will do is plead the case for you. (Something you could do on you own.)

Go to court and plead Not Guilty and ask for a PD.

Correction to the person who stated If the car is not running and not moving, you may have a good case for a dispute since a theoretical ability to drive when the car is not in operation is not a basis for an arrest.

This is NOT true in California. A minor with any BA level is guilty (period) there is no defense. By law it's illegal for a teen to have any BA level, doesn't mater if he was in the car or standing in a parking lot or there wasn't a car even close. In CA it's a mandatory license suspension.

The courts and DAs are very, very hard on teenagers with any BA level. Remember the family that was just killed in Novato? And don't let anyone try the cough medicine or mouth wash defense unless you child drank 5 gallons just before he was arrested. (You can find the calculation on-line.)

The arrest is going to be on your child's record rest of his life and it can not be erased, (it's already in the computer systems). If he applies for a job they will find it. As for the convection work with the PD, if your son can demonstrate he's a good kid you can get the record sealed and years from now possibly expunged.

Be glad your child did not kill anyone or get killed. If you son took driving training in CA he would have seen the video of the interview of the teen who is serving 25 years for killing another teen in Sacramento. (It's almost a repeat of the accident in Novato.)

Then consider the politics. Do you think a judge will let your son off on a technicality because the keys weren't in the car or he was in the back seat. If he does and your son gets into another accident that judge is not going to look good.

Look on the bright side and use this as a learning lesson for your son. Remind your son no one was killed, injured and there was no property damage and he should be all he got was a ticket. If he still doesn't get it arrange to have your son meet the young man in Vacaville that caused the Sacramento accident, he'll be there for another has 20 years.

Best of luck to you and your family. Someone who has been there

I am a Public Defender. I am not recommending that you retain, but I would like to correct the response in the 1/8/10 newsletter. It doesn't cost $80,000 to retain a private lawyer for a Teen DUI. The fees should not even come close to that amount. It is good to have someone who handles these types of cases on a regular basis, who is familiar with the courts and the DMV, take a look at your case. While it is true that teens can have no measurable amount of alcohol in their system, that does not mean that fighting their DUI charge is pointless. There may be issues that need to be addressed and not actually driving is an issue that should be dealt with. Look at it as two separate things, the DMV which deals with the license and the courts which deals with the consequences of the DUI arrest. Yes he may have an entry on his record of the arrest, but this is not a death sentence on his/her life. Get some legal counsel, PD or private. Just my two cents. Jody

DUI arrest for 18-year-old

Dec 2009

My step son got DUI and he is 18 years old (under age drinking). Has anyone been through this with their kids. Should we hire a lawyer or go it alone? Does anyone know a good DUI lawyer?

Preventing DUIs

There are now gadgets called Ignition Interlock Devices which are attached to the car. They are essentially breathilizers -- the engine will not start if the driver has been drinking. There are different models, made by different companies, but there are ways to be sure that the passenger cannot be the one whose breath is being tested.

There's a new state law which will mandate use of IIDs after the first DUI conviction but this is a pilot program, being used in a few counties. (AB 91)In any case, perhaps such a gadget would be useful to parents who are worried about their kids driving after drinking. Patty