The DUI laws in most states say that driving under the influence of alcohol with a minor passenger in the car is a more serious crime than a simple DUI.
This is because most jurisdictions impose sentencing enhancements for the offense and/or treat it as a form of aggravated DUI.
Further, some states may also file both DUI charges and child endangerment charges when a drunk driver has a child passenger in the motor vehicle.
In California, for example, Vehicle Code 23572 VC imposes a sentencing enhancement in DUI cases where DUI offenders drive intoxicated with a minor under 14 in the car. A sentencing enhancement essentially means a judge can impose additional jail time than normally authorized with a typical DUI offense. This additional jail time can grow as large as 90 days depending on the facts of the case.
Washington law instructs law enforcement personnel to take notice of those DUI cases where a minor child under 16 is present in the vehicle. Depending on the facts of the case, police can refer the case to child protective services.
Please note that if you are facing DUI charges, no matter if they involve a minor passenger or not, it is critical for you to contact a DUI defense lawyer today for help.
1. Is a DUI with a minor in the car more serious than simple DUI?
Yes. Most jurisdictions say that drunk driving with a minor child in the car is a more serious DUI/DWI offense than a standard first offense for DUI.
This is largely because most states impose sentencing enhancements for the act, or they treat it as an aggravated form of DUI. In both instances, intoxicated drivers will face enhanced penalties for DUI when compared to a DUI offense without a minor passenger.
For example, California Vehicle Code 23572 VC provides for enhanced DUI penalties, or sentencing enhancements, if a person drives under the influence of alcohol with a child under 14 years of age in the vehicle.1
The enhanced DUI under VC 23572 include:
an additional 48 hours in county jail time for first offense for DUI,
an additional 10 days in jail for a second DUI (or a second offense for DUI),
an additional 30 days in jail for a third DUI, and
an additional 90 days in jail for a fourth DUI.2
Note that a judge can impose the above jail times in addition to any jail time imposed for an underlying DUI offense.3
Note, too, that the minor child sentencing enhancement applies regardless of the following factors:
2. Is a DUI with children in the car an aggravated form of DUI?
Some states do consider DUI with a child in the car an aggravated form of DUI. “Aggravated DUI” basically means the offense is treated more severely than a typical DUI without a minor passenger.
Under New York DUI laws, for example, drivers face an aggravated form of DUI if they drive drunk with a minor passenger who is 15 years of age or less.4
Per these laws, DUI with a child is punishable by:
a maximum fine of $5,000,
driver’s license revocation for at least one year,
hours of community service, and
installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). 5
All of these penalties are harsher than those imposed for a non-aggravated DUI offense (or a basic offense for driving while intoxicated or driving with a blood alcohol concentration/blood alcohol level of .08% or higher).
3. Could DUI offenders face child endangerment charges?
Possibly. If a person drives drunk with a minor passenger, some states may choose to file both DUI charges and charges of child endangerment.
Washington State, for example, has a DUI law that instructs law enforcement in all DUI arrests to take note if a drunk driver has a child passenger under the age of 16.6 If a minor is present in the vehicle, police are instructed to notify child protective services.7
Once an instruction is made, a child protective services caseworker investigates the matter and may remove the subject child from the child’s home.
Washington typically treats child endangerment cases under the state’s child abuse laws.8
Note, too, that Washington may also treat DUI with a passenger as an aggravated form of DUI, with enhanced penalties like an additional 24 hours of jail time and fines of up to $1,000.9
4. Can a criminal defense attorney or DUI defense attorney help?
Yes. A defense attorney or DUI defense lawyer can undoubtedly help clients in DUI cases, especially in those that involve minor passengers or in cases involving aggravated DUI charges.
For example, skilled attorneys can use a state’s DUI laws to challenge the validity or constitutionality of a DUI arrest. They can also challenge any evidence used to support a DUI charge.
Keep in mind that most DUI defense lawyers/law firms provide free consultations. This means you can receive legal advice on your case without spending a dime.
In addition, the communications between a lawyer and his/her client are protected by the attorney-client relationship. This means an attorney cannot disclose these communications without the client’s consent.
See also Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code 3803b5 (punishing DUI with a minor under the age of 18 with up to five years in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000); and, Florida Statute 316.193 (DUI with a minor is punishable by up to nine months in jail and a fine up to $2,000).
See RCW Chapter 26.44. See also California Penal Code 273a (which authorizes prosecutors to charge DUI with a minor passenger as criminal charges involving child endangerment, punishable by custody in county jail or state prison).
See RCW Chapter 9.94A.
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.