Drunk driving is always risky, but when an adult rides with someone operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they typically understand the risks. The same can’t be said for children under 14, who have no choice but to agree to go on a ride with their parents when told to do so. Because putting children at unnecessary risk is considered child endangerment, the penalties for DUI with a juvenile under 14 in the car are quite severe. These penalties are in addition to the standard DUI consequences a driver will already face for driving under the influence. If you have been charged with drunk driving with a child in the car, contact a Vista lawyer with experience fighting these serious sentencing enhancements.
Penalties for Drunk Driving with a Minor in the Car
Under California Vehicle Code section 23572 (VC), driving with a child under 14 in the car is a type of criminal charge enhancement known as DUI with child endangerment. As an enhancement, you cannot be punished for this crime if you are not convicted of the underlying DUI charge.
The penalties for 23572 (VC) vary depending on the driver’s criminal record, with those who have previous convictions facing increasingly severe sentencing:
- First-time offenders face 48 hours in jail
- Second-time offenders face 10 days in jail
- Third-time offenders face 30 days in jail
- Those convicted for a fourth or subsequent DUI will face an additional 90 days in jail
In many cases, San Diego DUI lawyers can get these charges dismissed as part of a plea agreement, meaning their clients can avoid spending additional time in the Vista jail.
Child Endangerment Charges
In addition to DUI enhancements, those caught driving drunk with a child under 18 can also be charged with child endangerment. This charge can even be applied when a child is between 15 and 17, meaning the penalty enhancement under 23572 (VC) is not applicable. Child endangerment is detailed under the California Penal Code section 273(a) (PC). It consists of willingly putting a child at an unreasonable risk of harm, even if they are not actually injured as a result.
Child endangerment is known as a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the case. Misdemeanor child endangerment charges carry a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail. In contrast, felony charges can result in up to six years imprisonment in a state penitentiary and leave you with a strike on your criminal record. If you are convicted of any level of child endangerment charge, you will also be required to take a year-long parenting class. If you do not have custody of the child, the judge may also issue a stay-away order to keep you away from the juvenile.
When you are convicted of child endangerment under 273(a) (PC) and DUI, you cannot also be subjected to the sentencing enhancement under 23572 (VC).
Fighting DUI with Child Enhancements
Always discuss your defense strategy with your criminal defense attorney before talking to the police, as there are many potential defenses for 23572 (VC), but saying the wrong thing can be used as evidence against you. For example, suppose the test measuring your blood alcohol level was improperly administered. In that case, your attorney may have this evidence withheld, but because California law still allows people to be sentenced to DUI if a substance impaired their driving, saying you “felt buzzed” can negatively impact your case.
In many cases, child endangerment charges come down to whether or not the prosecution can make a case that the driver willingly and knowingly placed the child in danger. An experienced Vista DUI attorney can fight this assertion by showing that you never meant to place the child in harm’s way.
While it rarely applies, if you can show you were driving as a result of a true emergency, you have a complete defense against the charges, meaning you cannot be convicted. For example, if you were enjoying a bottle of wine while camping in an area with no cell phone reception, you would not be guilty of DUI if you drove your daughter to the hospital after a rattlesnake bit her.
What Happens to a Child After a DUI Arrest?
Immediately after the DUI arrest, the law enforcement officer will typically either release the child to the custody of their other parent or another relative or put them in the temporary care of Child Protective Services (CPS). In cases involving minors over 16, the officer may occasionally let the teen drive the vehicle home or give them a ride to their house.
Beyond the initial considerations, whether or not you get to keep your child in your custody is another matter. Neither child endangerment under 273(a) (PC) nor 23572 (VC) will automatically result in your child being taken away from you. But when you are charged with either of these offenses, CPS will be notified, and they may choose to do their own investigation. If CPS believes you are a threat to your child, they have the power to take the juvenile from your custody.
If you have been accused of driving under the influence and had a minor in the vehicle at the time, immediately contact a DUI lawyer experienced with child endangerment charges. San Diego prosecutors are very aggressive against defendants facing these charges, so always hire a top defense lawyer like Peter M. Liss to protect you against this serious California DUI conviction. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule your free initial consultation.