What Happens to Parents Who Drive DUI with Their Kids in the Car?

DUI-child-endangerment-CA-300x199Here in California, a single DUI can disrupt your life significantly. Even if you’ve been arrested for your first DUI, it can cost you fines, jail time and license suspension if you are convicted.

However, if you were arrested for DUI with children in the car, your world is about to get a whole lot more complicated. If you drive under the influence, you are considered a threat to public safety, let alone yourself. But if your kids are in the car when you do it, now you’re looking at possible child endangerment—a whole other issue that can add mandatory jail time and more to your sentence.

The repercussions of driving DUI with kids in the car extend well beyond the arrest itself. Let’s look at the numerous possible consequences of doing so.

Your Children Could be Hurt or Killed

Set aside the legal troubles for a minute. Not to overstate the obvious or put too fine a point on it, but when you drive intoxicated with your kids in the car, their lives are instantly placed at risk along with your own. One of the most recent examples is of a young mother in Detroit whose 3-year-old child was flung from her vehicle and killed during a DUI-related crash, according to the local ABC affiliate. The mother, who survived, must not only face charges, but now must live with the knowledge of what her actions caused.

Your Children Could End Up in Protective Custody

If you are pulled over with your children in the car and arrested for DUI, what happens to the children, especially if no one else is with you? Law enforcement must now decide what to do with the children. If another parent is available and able to care for them, the officer may call the parent and ask her to come pick up the children. If no parent or relative is available, your kids could foreseeably be placed in a shelter, foster home or other temporary protective custody while you go to jail.

You Could Face Enhanced Penalties if Convicted

California Vehicle Code Section 23572 VC calls for enhanced penalties for drivers convicted of DUI with a minor under the age of 14 in the car (sometimes called “DUI child endangerment”). These penalties are levied on top of any sentence you receive for the DUI itself. Even if you would otherwise have gotten by with probation on a first-time misdemeanor offense, if a minor was in the car, you will likely spend time in jail. Specifically, these are the enhanced penalties for DUI with a minor:

• First DUI offense: 48 hours in jail
• Second DUI within 10 years: 10 days in jail
• Third DUI within 10 years: 30 days in jail
• Fourth DUI within 10 years: 90 days in jail

One important note: DUI with a minor is not considered an additional charge, and the enhanced penalty only applies if you are convicted. If your attorneys successfully argue you were wrongfully charged, the additional penalties will be dropped along with the DUI charge.

You Could Be Charged Separately with Child Endangerment

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the DUI incident and your arrest, the prosecutor may also choose to charge you with child endangerment under California Penalty Code Section 273(a) PC. These charges may occur simultaneously to your DUI and penalty enhancements. To prove child endangerment in this case, the prosecutor must show that you:

• Caused, inflicted or allowed unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering toward the child (driving recklessly while under the influence could cause mental suffering even if the child is physically unharmed)
• Put the child in a position for possible great bodily harm or death
• Acted with criminal negligence

Perhaps you can see that if you drive DUI with kids in the car and are convicted, the prosecuting attorney may have little difficulty establishing these factors to prove child endangerment, as well.

What additional penalties could you face if convicted of child endangerment? In addition to your sentence for a DUI conviction with enhanced penalties, if you are charged with misdemeanor child endangerment, you could also face an additional 6 months in county jail along with a fine of up to $1000. If charged and convicted with felony child endangerment, you could be facing up to 6 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

If a Child Dies from Your Actions, You Could Face Manslaughter or Murder Charges

Let’s assume the worst-case scenario happens: You drive DUI with your children in the car, you get involved in a wreck, and one or more of your children dies as a result of the crash. Due to these aggravated circumstances, you could now potentially be charged with any of the following, based on either the aggravated DUI or the child endangerment:

• Involuntary manslaughter
• Voluntary manslaughter
• Second-degree murder
• Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
• Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
• DUI murder

A conviction on any of these charges could obviously result in significant jail time and fines, which would likely pale in comparison to what you would have received for a simple DUI conviction.

Even if your children weren’t harmed in any way, simply driving DUI with them in the car can significantly up the ante for you if convicted. For this reason, you shouldn’t face these charges on your own. For compassionate legal representation, call our offices today.

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