DUI laws in California provides for enhanced penalties for drivers caught driving under the influence with a passenger under 14. The punishments for this offense, according to Vehicle Code section 23572, Include additional jail term besides the standard DUI penalties in California.

Since any actions that place children’s lives at risk are considered child endangerment, you may still face additional child endangerment charges if you drive drunk with a minor. Still, a strong defense will help you to fight these enhanced penalties. The DUI Defense Attorney has a team of criminal defense attorneys in Van Nuys, California, that will help you mitigate the looming punishments. 

What the Prosecutor has to Prove in a DUI with Passenger Under 14 Case

DUI with a passenger under 14 is treated the same way as a traditional DUI under California laws. According to California Vehicle Code 23152, it is unlawful for a person to operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or a combination of both. To be convicted with a DUI, the prosecutor must prove that you were driving a vehicle and you were intoxicated.

Prosecutors usually rely on arresting officers or eyewitnesses’ testimony to confirm that you were driving a vehicle. On the other hand, the “under the influence” element can be shown using your blood, breath, or field sobriety tests. In most cases, prosecutors rely on blood tests since these tests give accurate levels of alcohol in the suspects’ system. Also, Drug Recognition Experts often use blood or urine tests to identify if a driver was under the influence of drugs.

Keeping in mind the above elements, the prosecutor must show that there was a passenger in your vehicle, and he/she was underage (under 14).

Whether you intended to harm the child or you drove in a manner that endangered the child’s life, what matters, in this case, are the above elements. If these elements are proven true, you’ll face the typical DUI penalties together with enhanced penalties for driving under the influence with a passenger under 14.

Enhanced Penalties for DUI with Passenger Under 14

Under California Vehicle Code section 23572, DUI with a child under the age of 14 may lead to a mandatory jail time besides the regular DUI penalties. Regular penalties for DUI are;

  1. Up to six months in jail, fines of up to $1,000, and a license suspension for at least six months if you are convicted for the first time;
  2. For a second DUI conviction, you face up to one year in jail, fines of up to $1,000, and a license suspension of up to two years;
  3. For a third DUI offense, you face up to a one-year jail term, fines of up to $1,000, and a license suspension of up to three years;
  4. Fourth and subsequent DUI offenses are usually treated as felonies, with imprisonment ranging from 16 months to four years, fines of up to $5,000, and a license suspension for 18 to 30 months.

The state sets out the following additional jail term for DUI with a passenger under 14 offense:

  1. If it’s your first offense, you get an additional 48 continuous hours in jail,
  2. You spend ten additional days in jail if you have a prior DUI conviction within the last 10 years,
  3. You get 30 more days in jail if you have two previous DUI convictions within the last 10 years, and
  4. If you have three or more DUI convictions within the last 10 years and the current DUI was a misdemeanor, you spend 90 additional days in jail. 

A fourth DUI offense within a 10-year period can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. If it’s charged as a felony, section 23572 of the Vehicle Codes (enhancement for DUI with a passenger under 14) will not apply. Instead, the defendant would face the usual felony penalties for DUI.

In addition to the penalty enhancements for driving under the influence with a passenger under 14, you could be charged separately with child endangerment.

Consequences of DUI with Passenger Under 14 on Child Custody

The enhanced sentences provided by section 23572 are not the only additional consequences you may face upon conviction for DUI with a passenger under 14. This offense could trigger Child Protective Service to further investigate you. Child Protective Services will seek to determine if you have substance abuse problems or your drinking habit is placing your children at risk. If the case is serious, Child Protective Services could remove your children from your custody.

How to Fight a DUI with Passenger Under 14 Sentence Enhancement

The penalty enhancement for DUI with a passenger under 14 is only applicable when you’ve been sentenced for driving under the influence or driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or above.

If your lawyer can succeed in fighting your DUI case, the court cannot inflict the additional penalty of DUI with a passenger under 14. In case your lawyer fails to secure you the case dismissal through common DUI offenses, you can plea bargain to a reduced DUI charge to reduce the sentence enhancement of a DUI with a passenger under 14.

Potential Legal Defenses for DUI

There are two common elements in the course of your case that you can use in your defense:

  • Chemical Test - For any blood or breath test to be accurate, it has to comply with a series of guidelines. For instance, the person taking the samples must be well-trained in sample collection and must follow the required steps to avoid cross-contamination of the samples. Any chemical test that did not comply with the guidelines should not be admissible as evidence in court;
  • The Traffic Stop - Traffic police should not pull you over without any reason. They need reasonable suspicion that you have violated traffic rules before they can stop you. if they stop and search you illegally, your attorney may ask the court to exclude any evidence collected during the illegal stop.

When DUI with Passenger Under 14 Results in Injury or Death of the Child

If you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a passenger under 14, you may face additional consequences if the child died or was injured. Consequently, the case can be treated as vehicular assault or manslaughter while intoxicated.

If the minor sustain serious injuries, the offense is considered a vehicular assault. Penalties for a vehicular assault include;

  1. Two to twelve years in jail depending on your past criminal history,
  2. 48 Hours mandatory jail sentence if it’s your first offense. Additional DUI related offenses increase your detention period,
  3. Your driver’s license is revoked for at least a year. If you have four or more DUI related offenses, you lose your license for five years.

If the minor dies, the case is likely to be treated as vehicular manslaughter (which is the unlawful act of causing the death of another person while driving a vehicle). This offense is punished depending on the specific elements of the crime; that is, whether there was gross negligence or ordinary negligence. In this case, you will face Class B felony charges as follows:

  1. Between 8 and 30 years behind bars depending on your past criminal history,
  2. A mandatory minimum sentence of 48 hours for a first offense, which is enhanced for drivers with prior DUI convictions,
  3. Your driver’s license gets revoked for three to ten years.

Can I be Charged with both DUI with Passenger Under 14 and Child Endangerment?

California’s child endangerment law is a different crime and can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The law punishes any person that willfully placed a child in a situation where their welfare and health may be endangered. DUI with a passenger under 14 falls into this category.

In cases where an intoxicated driver drives with a passenger under 14 in the car, they can be prosecuted with any of the following charges:

  • DUI sentencing enhancement,
  • Child endangerment as a separate crime, or
  • Both DUI with a child in the car and child endangerment.

However, you cannot be convicted of both child endangerment and DUI with a passenger under 14. This is because the courts are not allowed to impose additional sentencing enhancement on people convicted with child endangerment. Instead, you may face punishments for both ordinary DUI and PEN 273 (a) child endangerment.

An example of a scenario when you can be charged with both DUI and child endangerment is when a traffic officer pulls you over for erratic driving. Upon subjecting you to a breath test, your blood alcohol level is 0.15%. Additionally, your toddler is in the car, without a safety seatbelt. This is a serious case, and both child endangerment and DUI charges would apply.

If convicted with misdemeanor child endangerment, you face up to one year in jail, fines of up to $1,000 and/or informal probation for a minimum of four years.

The potential felony penalties for child endangerment are a maximum of six years in prison and fines of $10,000, and /or formal probation.

Factors that Will determine Whether You May Be Charged with Child Endangerment or DUI with Passenger Under 14

Not all cases of drunk driving with a passenger under 14 will result in child endangerment charges. It will depend on particular elements of the case and the amount of danger the child was perceived to be in. The following factors may affect whether child endangerment can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony;

  • If the driver was driving recklessly
  • If the car was involved in an accident
  • If the child was wearing a seat belt
  • The driver’s BAC level
  • Use of drugs or alcohol

To be convicted of child endangerment, the prosecutor must prove that a child under your custody;

  1. suffered unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain;
  2. was placed in a position to suffer unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain;
  3. was injured;
  4. was put in a position where they could be injured. 

In all the above four cases, there must be evidence that you permitted the actions to take place; that is, you did nothing to prevent the child’s suffering or you are the perpetrator of the child’s pain.

Besides driving under the influence with a passenger under 14, other actions that may expose you to child endangerment charges include;

  • Having weapons like guns or knives where the child can easily access;
  • Buying, selling or using illegal drugs in the presence or vicinity on a minor;
  • Not taking a sick child to trained professionals to get medical attention;
  • Subjecting a minor to any dangerous situation;
  • Employing a nanny that is known in the community as someone who hurts children.

Does a Wet Reckless Sentence Reduction Affect a DUI with Passenger Under 14 Conviction?

A wet reckless is where a DUI conviction is reduced as part of a plea agreement. Under California Vehicle Code 23103, reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense that involves unsafe driving. In a wet reckless conviction, a note indicating that your wet reckless conviction involved alcohol is attached on your criminal record.

Penalty enhancement for DUI with a passenger under 14 only applies for DUI charges. If the DUI charge is reduced to wet reckless, the penalty enhancement will not apply.

Can You get Probation for DUI with Passenger Under 14?

DUI with a passenger under 14 resulting to great bodily harm or death is a felony. The penalties may include two, four or six years in prison. If convicted of child endangerment, there is a mandatory minimum period of four years’ probation, a protective order, and completion of minimum one-year child abuser’s treatment counseling program. DUI child endangerment may also require the driver to refrain from consuming alcohol and drugs during probation and submit to random drug tests by the probation officer.

DUI with Passenger Under 14 as Child Neglect and Other Related Actions

Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs with your child in the car is considered child abuse or neglect. Other behaviors considered as child neglect include: making threats to seriously harm or kill your child; leaving your underage child unattended or with a person who is unable to properly supervise them; allowing your child to witness or participate in illegal drug or alcohol abuse; knowingly allowing your child to be emotionally, physically, or sexually abused; hitting your child with an object with the intention of harm; excessive use of physical restraint or isolating the child for prolonged periods as a means of controlling your child’s behavior; being unwilling to allow your child to obtain appropriate educational instruction; exposing your child to, or involving your child in the production of pornographic material; failure to report suspected child abuse.

What Happens to Parents who are Guilty of DUI with Passenger Under 14?

In California, a DUI conviction, even if it’s your first-time DUI offense, can seriously sway your life. It may cost you your driver’s license, you may incur fines, and face a jail term if convicted. If you get arrested for DUI with your child as a passenger, the repercussions of a conviction go beyond the normal enhanced penalties to a possible loss of your parental rights. Some of the rights that can be affected include:

  • The right to enter a contract on behalf of your underage child,
  • The right to assume custody of the child,
  • The right to decide on the child’s emotional or medical wellbeing, and
  • The right to visit or contact your child.

Other Hidden Consequences Associated with Your DUI Child Endangerment Conviction

There are several hidden costs associated with a DUI conviction. Most people only consider the financial costs implications, the possibility of a jail term, ability to get a job, driver’s license suspension, the stress associated with multiple court appearances, and the effect that such a conviction has on your family. Other collateral consequences of a DUI conviction include:

  1. It may affect your eligibility for school financial aid including loans;
  2. You may not be able to travel to certain countries;
  3. You may not be able to work in a job that requires driving;
  4. You may be denied housing due to your criminal record; and
  5. It may trigger a professional licensing body to take action against you or deny you a license in the future.

Find a DUI Attorney Near Me

Driving under the influence with a passenger under 14 offense can result in severe criminal penalties and a probable loss of parental rights. Irrespective of what you think you know about your case, consulting an experienced DUI attorney is a major step towards fighting a DUI with a passenger under 14 charge. The DUI Defense Attorney is committed to protecting the rights, freedom, and reputation of our clients. Our attorneys in Van Nuys, California, possess an elaborate understanding of California DUI and child endangerment laws and will assist you to decide your legal options towards the most suitable end result. Contact our firm today at 818-253-1913 and you will receive the help you need to get your life back on track.