California law is strict and rightfully so as far as protecting children is concerned. Minors deserve our consideration, care, and protection since they’re the most vulnerable members of society. Even though endangering a child’s welfare might or might not count as child abuse, it’s still a severe crime that may carry harsh punishments upon conviction.
Many incidents and situations can subject you to child endangerment charges, including DUI with a minor passenger in the vehicle. When you’re caught drunk driving with a child in the car, you are considered to be endangering their life and therefore could face harsh penalties under both DUI and child endangerment laws.
In most cases, child endangerment accusations due to DUI may be based on false accusations where you weren’t the one in control of the child or false accusations. Unluckily, this often doesn’t stop the prosecution from pressing charges. To fight these kinds of charges, you’ll need an aggressive defense lawyer. At Jonathan Franklin DUI Attorney, we understand how critical it is for people charged under child endangerment law not to suffer wrongful convictions and should have their rights protected. If you’re facing child endangerment charges in Los Angeles, please call us to know your legal options and rights.
An Overview of Child Endangerment Laws
California PC 273a defines what constitutes child endangerment. It’s the willful exposure of a child below 18 years old to unjustifiable danger, pain, or suffering. You can be prosecuted for subjecting a child to an unreasonable risk of harm even if the minor doesn’t suffer any physical injury. Anyone can face child endangerment charges and not only parents.
Generally, the adult is a person who has a minor in their care. Particularly, you can be prosecuted for child endangerment when you:
- Cause or permit a child to sustain unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain
- Willfully cause or permit a child to sustain an injury
- Willfully cause or allow a child to be exposed to a dangerous situation.
DUI and Child Endangerment
Driving while intoxicated when you have a minor passenger in your car is a form of child endangerment. Under DUI laws (VC 23572), you’ll face enhanced penalties if you’re found guilty of impaired driving when a passenger below 14 years old is in the auto. The DUI with child endangerment sentence enhancement comprises additional compulsory time in jail (to add to the standard DUI sentence). This means if you’re guilty of drunk driving and a minor was in the vehicle, you’ll undoubtedly serve a jail term.
VC 23572 is straightforward. If you’re found guilty of driving while intoxicated, and an under 14 passenger was in the auto when you were driving, the DUI with child endangerment penalty enhancement will apply. Elements like your driving pattern, intoxication level, or whether you meant to hurt the child don’t count. DUI with child endangerment only looks at two questions:
- Were you driving while intoxicated?
- Was there a minor below fourteen years old in the vehicle when you drove?
Penalties for DUI with Child Endangerment
We mentioned that impaired driving with an under 14 years passenger triggers penalty enhancement under DUI laws. Therefore, if guilty of driving while intoxicated and a child passenger was in the auto, you will be subject to both the standard DUI punishments and an additional and consecutive sentence as follows:
- Forty-eight hours in jail if it’s your first offense DUI conviction
- A ten-day jail term if it’s your second offense DUI conviction
- A thirty-day jail term for a conviction of a third offense DUI
- A jail sentence of ninety days for the fourth/subsequent misdemeanor drunk- or drug-driving conviction
The additional and consecutive sentence is compulsory, meaning you will have to serve time in jail if found guilty of violating VC 23572, driving while intoxicated with an under 14 passenger in the vehicle enhancement. Another point worth noting is that a fourth offense DUI is either a felony or misdemeanor. If you’ve been charged with a felony, DUI with child endangerment sentence enhancement doesn’t apply.
Fighting DUI with Child Enhancement Penalty Enhancement
It’s worth emphasizing that the sentencing enhancement for drunk- or drug-driving with a child below 14 years old in the auto does only apply to situations where you’re guilty of violating VC 23152(a) or VC 23152(b). Thus, if your legal counsel can win your DUI case, the judge can’t impose the sentence enhancement for drunk driving with an under 14 passenger, and VC 23572 won’t apply.
And where the lawyer cannot have your charges dismissed by arguing drunk-driving defenses, they could manage to have your charges reduced through plea bargaining. This, too, would avoid the penalty increment for driving while intoxicated with a minor in the vehicle. For instance, should your lawyer manages to have your drunk-driving charges reduced to a dry/wet reckless, VC 23572 won’t apply anymore.
The Relationship Between Child Endangerment Laws and DUI
violating PC 273(a) is a distinct criminal act that could be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor. We mentioned that this law penalizes people who willfully expose a minor to situations where their welfare might be at risk. Courts have ruled DUI with an under 14 passenger to fall under this category. Thus, if you’re drunk driving with a child below 14 years, the DA can opt to press any of these charges:
- impaired driving penalty enhancement under VC 23572
- the distinct child endangerment offense under PC 273(b)
- both PC 273(a) violation and drunk driving with a minor in the vehicle
However, you can’t be guilty of violating both PC 273(a) and VC 23572 at the same time. The law prohibits the judge from ordering the additional and consecutive penalty enhancement under VC 23572 for defendants guilty of child endangerment. However, you could be found guilty of PC 273(a) violation and ordinary DUI (with no child in the auto) sentence enhancement. You could face child endangerment charges irrespective of:
- The child passenger’s age (i.e., anybody below 18 years matters), meaning if you’re DUI with a minor above 14 years, you may not face enhanced penalties under VC 23572, but you may face child endangerment charges
- Whether your intoxicated driving is a felony or misdemeanor (meaning if you are facing a fourth offense DUI with a minor, you won’t face penalty enhancement under VC 2357, but you may face child endangerment charges
Having said this, a PC 273(a) child endangerment charge is more severe and isn’t always filed in relation to every impaired-driving incident where there’s a minor passenger. The prosecution usually saves these charges for the most severe cases.
The Penalties for Child Endangerment Per PC 273(a)
If you’re caught drunk driving with a minor passenger and are prosecuted under child endangerment laws, you will face different penalties upon conviction. For one, your actions could be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Felony charges are imposed when your behavior creates a risk of death or significant bodily harm to the minor; for instance, if your DUI caused an accident or you were driving aggressively.
If your conduct didn’t create any risk of death or significant bodily injury, you would face misdemeanor charges. The punishment upon a conviction will be a maximum of six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. The judge could also impose misdemeanor probation. Per California statute, the minimum probation period that a judge can impose if convicted of child endangerment is four years. The probation may involve the following conditions:
- The requirement to abstain from using alcohol and drug for the entire probation period, and
- Possible random drug tests.
The judge can waive these conditions if they find that they wouldn’t be in the best interest of justice. They may also agree to early probation termination if you adhere to all the conditions for the first one or two years.
Finally, if you’re sentenced to probation, you may expunge your criminal record. You may do this once you successfully serve the probation sentence by filing a petition. But the judge may deny your request if you violated probation terms and conditions or failed to comply with all of them.
The penalties for a felony conviction include two, four, or six years of a prison sentence and a maximum of $10,000 in fines. Alternatively, the judge may sentence you to at least four years of felony probation, with conditions similar to those of a misdemeanor. If you’re sentenced to probation, you can also erase your conviction record as provided above.
Should the Child Passenger Die Due to Your DUI, You May Face Murder or Manslaughter Charges
Suppose you’re drunk-driving with a child passenger in the vehicle, then you’re involved in an accident, and the minor dies due to the crash. In this case, you could be charged with any of these crimes:
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Involuntary manslaughter
- Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- Second-degree murder
- Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- Watson murder
Being convicted of any of the above offenses can lead to more significant fines and jail/prison sentences compared to what you would’ve received for child endangerment or DUI sentence enhancement.
Fighting Child Endangerment Charges Due to DUI
Many legal defenses are available to combat child endangerment charges on the grounds of driving with a minor in the car. Just like under VC 23572, you can fight these charges by first proving that you weren’t impaired when driving. To show you weren’t drunk driving, your lawyer could help you argue several of the DUI defenses, including:
False High BAC Results
Before administering a breath test, an arresting officer has to observe you continuously for fifteen minutes to ensure you don’t put any alcohol-containing substance in the mouth, including mouthwash or mouth spray, medicines like cough syrup, and drinks.
The arresting officer also has to ensure you don’t burp, belch, or regurgitate since doing so could bring stomach alcohol into the mouth, creating residual mouth alcohol. Residual mouth alcohol is a defense to DUI.
Inaccurate BAC Results
You could also argue that the BAC results were inaccurate. Inaccurate BAC results occur due to wrongly calibrated and improperly maintained breath and blood testing equipment. It could also be caused by the improper collection, handling, and storage of blood samples.
The Arresting Officer Did Not Follow Proper Procedures
If the police didn’t follow the stipulated procedures when arresting or investigating your case, you could use it as a defense. Various guidelines govern a DUI investigation to protect defendants from police misconduct. They include:
- The condition that the police read your Miranda rights before interrogation
- The probable cause requirement for DUI stop or arrest
- Title 17 regulations
Should they violate any of these guidelines, your lawyer can file the motion to suppress to exclude any proof that was not correctly acquired and poke holes into the prosecutor’s case and potentially convince them to reduce or dismiss your charges.
Other defenses to child endangerment include:
Illegal search and seizure
If the police conducted an illegal search and seizure (i.e., without a warrant), it means the evidence they obtained is illegal and is inadmissible in court. If you are a victim of illegal search and seizure, your lawyer can request the court to omit the proof in your case by filing a PC 1538.5 motion to suppress.
You Weren’t Responsible for the Child
You could argue that even though you exposed the child to a dangerous situation by driving while intoxicated, you weren’t responsible for him/her. Perhaps someone else was in the vehicle with you who was supposed to take care of the child. This defense can be successful in acquitting you of child endangerment charges. However, the prosecution could still charge you with driving under the influence.
You Weren’t the Person Who Exposed the Child to the Danger
For the prosecution’s team to prove that you drove while intoxicated with a minor passenger in the vehicle, they first have to show that you operated the auto. If it wasn’t you behind the wheel, the prosecution can’t find you guilty of child endangerment for driving under the influence. It could be that you were just sleeping your impairment off on the driver’s seat, or the actual driver had just stepped out of the vehicle to buy gas.
Find a DUI and Child Endangerment Lawyer Near Me
At Jonathan Franklin DUI Attorney, we have been representing persons facing criminal offense charges in Los Angeles for many years. We’re skilled and experienced in DUI and criminal defense and have an in-depth knowledge of California law and the justice system. We provide top-notch legal representation for child endangerment and DUI with a minor in the car and ensure you receive the best possible outcome. Having the right attorney fighting for you can make a significant difference when facing criminal charges. Call us today at 323-464-6700 to talk to one of our expert lawyers about how to regain your freedom.