Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is a severe offense in California. According to California DUI laws, you are considered drunk driving if your blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit, which is 0.08%. A single drunk driving conviction could disrupt your life significantly even when you are a first time offender. However, if you are arrested for DUI and have a passenger under the age of 14 years in your vehicle, your situation will get more complicated. 

If you have been arrested and face criminal charges for DUI with child endangerment as an aggravating factor, you will require competent legal guidance by your side. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we can plan an excellent defense strategy to help you fight the charges for a possible reduction on dismissal.

Overview of DUI with a Passenger Under 14

Under California Vehicle Code 23152, drunk driving is a serious offense that carries hefty legal consequences. Specific factors of your case will determine the severity of the penalties you face after a conviction for DUI. A first offense for DUI does not have similar penalties to a second, third, or fourth offense within ten years. Most simple DUI offenses are charged as a misdemeanor, which does not have grave consequences. However, some factors of your case could cause the court to enhance your charge to a felony automatically. DUI's aggravating factors are used to indicate your actions' seriousness and the possible effect on safety.

Operating a vehicle while intoxicated in itself is punished harshly. Having a child under the age of 14 years in the car while you are drunk driving is a DUI aggravating factor that attracts a sentence enhancement. This is because your actions are considered to be endangering the life of the Child. Under Vehicle Code 23572, an arrest for DUI with a passenger under 14 is a felony that attracts hefty penalties.

There are different forms of DUI with which you can be arrested and charged in California. Vehicle Code 23152 defines DUI as the act of operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content that exceeds 0.085, which is the legal limit. Sometimes, you may be charged with drunk driving even when your BAC is normal. This could be the case if your general driving conduct is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Also, the legal limit varies depending on the driver's licenses with which you are operating. Regardless of DUI, you are charged with, having a passenger below 14 years attracts aggravated DUI charges. 

When you are facing charges for drunk driving with a passenger below 14, the prosecutor must prove these facts:

You were driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. 

A DUI criminal case begins when a traffic officer stops your vehicle for suspected drunk driving. Your driving behavior and how you navigate the car will be one reason why a traffic officer could stop you. Once your car has stopped, the officer will conduct a field sobriety test to check your physical attributes. A Breathalyzer test will then be carried out to establish the alcohol content in your breath. If your Breathalyzer test results exceed 0.08%, you will be arrested and taken to the station.

On arriving at the station, your blood alcohol content is taken. This test is the most reliable piece of evidence that indicates that you were drunk driving. Before you can face a conviction under Vehicle Code 23572, the prosecutor must prove that you were intoxicated at the time of your arrest.

When you were Drunk Driving, there was a Child under 14 Years in the Vehicle

California VC 23572 arises when you endanger a minor's life by having them in your vehicle while you are drunk driving. Therefore, having a passenger under fourteen years is a vital element that needs to be clear before a conviction is made. If you can fight drunk driving charges, you cannot face charges under Vehicle Code 23572. Therefore, competent legal guidance will go a long way for you in this situation.

California Vehicle Code 23572 is a straight forward law that seeks to severely punish individuals arrested and charged with DUI with a minor in the car. If your DUI charge was a misdemeanor and had a child passenger, the charges could be enhanced to a felony.

Consequences of a Conviction for DUI with a Child in the Car

When you are convicted for drunk driving with a minor passenger, you will first face the penalties for DUI and, on top of that, face additional penalties for putting a child in danger. The legal penalties you suffer after a Conviction under VC 23572 are:

  1. First Offense

A conviction for a first offense DUI attracts a jail sentence of six months and fines of up to $1,000. You may also lose your driving privileges for at least six months and attend DUI school. Sometimes, a first offense DUI is not punishable by jail time, and you may be subjected to probation instead. If you had a passenger below 14 years during the first DUI, you have to serve a jail sentence. Also, your penalty will be enhanced with a 48 hours jail sentence.

  1. Second Offense

A second offense DUI conviction is punishable by 96 hours to one year served in county jail. You may also be required to pay court fines amounting to $1,000. If you are found guilty of the offense, you could suffer a one-year driver's license suspension. During the license suspension period, you could continue operating as long as you install an ignition interlock device. Mandatory attendance to DUI School for up to 30 months is a requirement for individuals convicted for a second DUI within ten years of the first. A child under 14 in your car during a second DUI attracts a ten-day additional jail sentence.

  1. Third Offense 

The penalties for you face after a third offense DUI within ten years include a jail sentence ranging between 120 days to one year. You will also be required to attend DUI School for thirty months. One of the harshest penalties you face after a conviction for drunk driving is the suspension of your driver's license. For a third offense DUI, the period of suspension is two years if you install an ignition interlock device. Failure to install the IID the license suspension will last for three years. If you had a minor in the vehicle, you would be charged with aggravated DUI, and you will face a thirty days additional sentence.

  1. Fourth Offense

California DUI law is stringent on repeat offenders. If you are convicted for a fourth DUI within ten years, you will face a one-year jail sentence, driver's license, and a mandatory enrollment to DUI School. Sometimes, you may have to pay fines of up to $2,000. As a sentence enhancement of having a minor child in the vehicle, your jail sentence is increased by 90 days.

DUI with a minor is not an additional charge but is an enhancement for individuals who are convicted for drunk driving. If your attorney can successfully argue that you are not guilty of drunk driving, you will not face additional penalties.

DUI's repercussions with a child in the car will go beyond the arrest, conviction, and legal penalties accompanying the offense. Other consequences could significantly impact your life, including:

  • Your Child Could Be Hurt or Killed

When you operate a vehicle while intoxicated, it is evident that your overall judgment and coordination are impaired. Failure to make quick and right decisions when driving may result in a severe accident. When you drive while intoxicated with passengers below 14 years, you put the lives of these children in danger. If a child is injured or killed in a DUI incident when they were in the vehicle, you could face additional charges for murder, DUI murder, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. A conviction for any of these charges will result in significant jail time and fines. Besides, you will have to live with the knowledge of what your actions caused.

  • Your Child May End up in Protective Custody.

If you are arrested for drunk driving and have children below 14 years in the car, law enforcement may have to decide the children's fate. If the other isn't available, they could be called to pick the children. Otherwise, they may end up in protective custody. All drunk driving-related convictions remain in your record until you expunge or seal them. Therefore, a conviction for DUI with a passenger below 14 may derail your ability to have custody of your children. This is because such an act is considered to be child endangerment.

  • You could be Charged with Child Endangerment.

Drunk driving is dangerous for you and other road users. When you decide to operate your vehicle while intoxicated and have a child in the car, you put their lives at risk. Depending on the incidences surrounding your arrest, the prosecutor could charge you with child endangerment. The charges could be simultaneous to Vehicle Code23572 enhancement. If you can successfully defend yourself from the drunk driving charge, you could still be charged with child endangerment.

Children are the most vulnerable members of society, and the law seeks to protect them at all costs. Exposing children to dangerous conditions such as drunk driving attracts severe criminal charges under PC 273(a). The law mandates everyone to take part in caring for children. Therefore a passerby could report you for child endangerment.

Child endangerment is defined as the crime of exposing a child to pain or suffering. Even when your drunk driving conduct did not cause injury to the Child, you can still face charges under PC 273(a). When you face charges for child endangerment due to drunk driving, the prosecutor must establish that you willfully allowed a child to face the danger of suffering.

Willfully endangering a child means that you put them in a situation that you knew was dangerous. By establishing that you were operating a vehicle while under alcohol or drug influence, the prosecutor can prove that you willfully endanger the minor. Also, the prosecutor needs to prove that you acted with negligence, which occurs when:

  • You act recklessly and in a way that a reasonable person would not act.
  • You acted with disregard for the safety of the minor
  • Your actions amount to criminal negligence, which attracts felony charges

Even when it is charged alongside DUI, child endangerment can be a felony or a misdemeanor. Under its discretion, the court decides the nature of your charges by considering your case's particular circumstances. A misdemeanor conviction under PC 273(a) attracts the following penalties:

  • Fines amounting to $10,000
  • A six months jail sentence
  • A four years' summary probation is imposed. During probation, the court may require you to make regular check-ins with your probation officer and avoid any situations that could endanger a child.

When you have a criminal history of drunk driving or other offenses, the court will charge you with felony child endangerment. A conviction for a felony is punishable by: 

  • Imprisonment for 2,4 or six years 
  • Fines not exceeding $10,000
  • Felony probation. Once you have paid all the fines and followed all the probation conditions, you could apply for early termination.

If you face criminal charges for child endangerment after drunk driving with a passenger below 14 years, you will need guidance from a competent lawyer.

Defenses to DUI with a Passenger Under 14

If you or a loved one is facing DUI charges with a minor, it would be wise to work with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. A DUI attorney who understands the law could employ different defense strategies to reduce your penalties or dismiss your criminal case. One of the options of fighting PC 23572 is by fighting the DUI charge. This could help you avoid the enhancement. If your attorney can get one of the charges dismissed, you will receive a lenient sentence.

Some of the defenses you can apply for your DUI charges include:

Challenge the Chemical Results

After an arrest for alleged drunk driving, you may be required to submit to blood and breathe tests. The blood alcohol content results are a crucial piece of evidence to prove drunk driving. Therefore, if you can dispute these results' accuracy, your charges could be reduced or dismissed. The blood and breath tests are administered by humans who are prone to error. The Breathalyzer used to check the alcohol content in your breath needs regular checks to ensure it functions right. By disputing its accuracy, you can try to disregard the results indicating a high BAC.

Argue that your BAC Was Increasing

The period between which the traffic officer stops your vehicle and when the BAC content is taken at the station is long. Therefore, you can argue that your BAC was on the rise, and at the time you were during the effects of the alcohol had not kicked in. This defense is applicable if you're driving the alcohol did not influence conduct, and you passed the field sobriety test. If you can fight for your DUI charges to be dismissed, you will not face the sentence enhancement under CPC 23572.

Challenge the Arrest Procedure

Even when an officer suspects that you are committing a crime, your rights should be respected during arrest and prosecution. Before arresting you for drunk driving, the traffic officer should follow the right procedure under article 14. They should administer a field sobriety test then proceeds to the chemical tests. Even though refusal to take the breath and blood tests has legal consequences, you can choose to refuse the tests. As a defense to your DUI case, you can challenge the procedure used to collect the evidence brought against you. If the right approach was not followed, the evidence could not be used to secure a conviction.

Lack of Probable Cause of Arrest

One of the reasons why a traffic officer could stop you for suspected DUI is your driving conduct. Failure to adhere to traffic rules by swerving, over speeding, or avoiding the traffic rights could cause you to be flagged down. After stopping, the officer will assess your general well-being to look out for obvious signs of drunk driving. This could include staggering, the presence of actual alcohol in your vehicle, or even alcohol in your breath. If all these were not present, you could argue that there was no probable cause for arresting you.

Alternative Explanation for your High BAC

Several reasons could cause the alcohol content in your blood to rise. Some of these factors include the intake of certain foods, diabetes, or general body alcohol. With sufficient proof, you could argue that you were not intoxicated and come up with another explanation of your high blood alcohol content.

When you are facing charges for DUI with a minor, you can persuade the judge to offer you a plea bargain for wet reckless or dry reckless. Wet reckless is not always a criminal charge you can face. The charge is a plea bargain for drunk driving. However, you will have to plead guilty to reckless driving. When you successfully get the plea bargain, the charges of endangering the life of a minor will not apply to your case.

Other DUI Aggravating Factors in California

In California, facing an arrest, trial, and convicted for drunk driving is bad enough. This is because the charge attracts serious consequences that may have long term effects on your life. A DUI charge becomes worse when there are aggravating factors, such as having a passenger under 14 in the vehicle. Other aggravating factors that could prompt a DUI enhancement include:

  • Excessive BAC

There are several factors that a court considers when charging you with DUI. The legal blood alcohol content limit for operating a motor vehicle in California is 0.08%. If your BAC was 0.155 or higher at the time of arrest, you could receive an enhanced sentence.

  • Refusal to Submit to Chemical tests

Taking chemical tests during a DUI arrest is voluntary. However, failure to take the tests will have dire consequences. If you refuse to take blood and breathe tests and are convicted for DUI, the refusal can be used to enhance your penalties. Since there is no evidence of your actual Bathe court assumes that it was over the legal limit.

  • Causing an Accident

If you cause an accident that leads to injury while you are drunk driving, you will be charged with aggravated DUI. If you caused serious injury or death to other people, you could face felony DUI charges. The nature of your penalties will significantly depend on the severity of the injuries you caused and the number of victims.

  • Excessive Speed

Exceeding the speed limit by 30mph is not only dangerous but can be subject to enhanced DUI penalties. In most cases, over speeding is one reason why a traffic officer could flag down your vehicle. A report from the arresting officer who observed your conduct could indicate the speed you were driving. Sometimes excessive speed is considered reckless driving, which will not sit well when accompanied by drunk driving. 

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

A drunk driver is considered a threat to public safety. When you drink and drive a vehicle with a child under 14 as a passenger, you risk facing aggravated DUI charges. Simple DUI charges attract severe legal penalties in the form of jail time, fines, and a risk of losing your driving privileges. When the aggravating factor of endangering a child's life is present in your case, the penalties could be more severe. Besides, you could face additional charges for child endangerment under California Penal Code 273(a). 

The consequences you face after a conviction for DUI with a passenger under 14 could significantly impact your life. Therefore, enlisting a criminal lawyer's help is a wise decision you can make for your case. If you face these charges in Orange County, CA, we invite you to contact Orange County Criminal Lawyer for guidance and representation. Call us today at 714-262-4833.