DUI laws in California are quite steep, and things can get complex for a driver who drives under the influence with a passenger under 14 years of age. This is treated as an aggravating factor in DUI cases that can lead to a sentence enhancement. The Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer can plan an excellent defense strategy for you to help reduce charges for a DUI with a Passenger under 14 to standard DUI or less severe charges. We can also help you fight DUI charges, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony case, by plea bargaining or defending you in court.

Understanding DUI with a Passenger Under 14

DUI in itself is a severe offense in California, carrying some of the severe punishments as provided under Section 23152 of California Vehicle Code. Depending on the prevailing circumstances and whether or not it was your first DUI offense, you could be accused of a misdemeanor or a felony DUI. However, there are aggravating factors that automatically enhances your DUI charge to a felony, even for first-time offenders. These aggravating factors are used to show just how dangerous your actions are and whether or not you are posing a risk to yourself, other people using the road or your passengers.

Driving under the influence with a passenger under 14 is an aggravating circumstance in DUI cases. Note that operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol is itself a serious offense. Endangering the life of a child who is less than 14 years is another crime, which is precisely what the driver does when they drive with a minor while intoxicated. Irrespective of your intoxication level, this will be a serious felony case that could attract heftier penalties.

The law about drunk driving with a child below 14 years in a car is provided under Section 23572 of the California Vehicle Code.  If any driver is found guilty of such an offense, they will get additional penalties on their usual DUI penalties that have been imposed under Section 23572 of the California Vehicle Code. What this means is that such an offender will end up serving a sentence in jail and charged with DUI as well as child endangerment.

There are different forms of drunk-driving charges under California law. Their degrees vary subject to the amount of alcohol found on the driver’s blood at the time they were arrested. Sometimes one might be accused of DUI even when their BAC is lower than the allowed limit. On the other hand, one can be charged with an extreme case of DUI, popularly known as aggravated DUI/DWI, if they are found to be driving under the influence of an amount of alcohol that is twice than the allowed level. If, however, you are found guilty of driving under the influence with a minor under 14 in the vehicle, you will be accused of an aggravated or felony DUI. An intoxicated driver is most likely going to be charged with murder if the child loses their life under such situations. Even though the defendant may not have anticipated causing the death of a minor, he/she will be liable to intentionally putting the life of a child in danger by the fact that they were driving under the influence.

How Are These Cases Handled?

California Vehicle Code 23572 is a very straightforward law, requiring any person that is arrested and charged with DUI with a minor in the vehicle to be severely punished. If the DUI charge was a misdemeanor, but there was a child in the car at that instant the driver was arrested, the sentence should be enhanced into a felony. For this type of case, such factors as how erratic your driving was, whether or not you had exceeded the legal BAC limit, or whether or not you planned to bring harm to the child will not be considered.

What this law is concerned about are only two issues: if you were the one in control of the vehicle at the time of DUI arrest and whether there was a minor under 14 in the car with you at that time.

A DUI with a passenger under 14 charge is a wobbler in California. This means that you could either get a misdemeanor or a felony. This all depends on the seriousness of the danger the child was facing. The unfortunate bit is that this type of charge can attract so many other charges, such as violation of child endangerment regulations, which is a separate and additional accusation and not an enhancement to the charges you will be facing.

How to Fight DUI with a Passenger Under 14 Charge

If you or your loved one is facing a DUI with a passenger under 14 charges, it is advisable to work with a proficient DUI defense lawyer as this is the only chance you have of having those charges reduced.  A smart DUI attorney will understand California DUI laws very well to know what they can use and strategies they can employ to have your penalties reduced. Your attorney will also advise you on the best option in fighting the charges that will be levied against you. 

One option is to fight the charges even when there is clear evidence that you were indeed driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a passenger under 14 in the car. The reason to fight such a charge is to prevent the enhanced sentencing. The second option is for your attorney to use his/her knowledge about the arrest and court processes to challenge the procedure that the arresting officer used and how the chemical testing was conducted. If for instance, you were not in control of the car at the time of arrest, you may have a solid defense.

There is also the option of pleading guilty or chances of being found guilty of the offense if the court has enough evidence to prove the case. In that case, you need to rely on the help of your attorney to get you a lenient sentence.

Note that a punishment enhancement for drunk driving will be announced if you have been sentenced to both Vehicle Code 23152(a) Drunk Driving and Vehicle Code 23152(b), with a BAC level of.08% and above. If your attorney can fight one of the charges, you may end up with a lenient sentence. If for instance, your attorney is smart enough to fight your DUI charge, the prosecutor may end up dropping your child endangerment charges, which means that you will not be penalized for violating vehicle Code 23572.

In some cases, a smart attorney can persuade the judge to propose a plea agreement for their client, which can help resolve your DUI offense and reduce the charges. In that case, you might get a wet reckless charge or a dry reckless charge as provided under Sections 23103/23103.5 of California Vehicle Code. In such a case, charges under Vehicle Code 23572 for endangering the life of a minor will not apply.

Jail Time and Enhanced Penalties for a DUI with a Passenger Under 14

As provided under Vehicle Code 23572, if a driver is found guilty of DUI with a minor in the vehicle, they are penalized for the first drunk driving offense and on top of that, they get additional penalties as below:

  • Two days in a county jail for the first DUI sentence
  • Ten days in a county jail for the second DUI sentence
  • Thirty days in a county jail for the third DUI sentence
  • Ninety days in a county jail for the fourth and subsequent DUI convictions

These penalties are mandatory, and this means that it is a must for a person to serve some time in prison if they are convicted of any DUI charge with child endangerment. Note that any prior DUI conviction will only apply if you have a similar sentence within ten years before the current arrest, for the same charge of DUI with a passenger under 14. If you have been convicted of the same crime four times within ten years, the offense will be a wobbler.

The state laws will impose a punishment enhancement to add to the above penalties, for other reasons such as:

  • Refusing to willingly agree to drunk driving urine, blood or breathe tests
  • Your BAC level was at 0.15% or above
  • You were speeding or driving recklessly on a highway

Child Endangerment plus DUI with a Passenger Under 14

Provided under California PC 273(a), child endangerment is a different offense from DUI, and it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the amount of danger you had exposed the minor to. In the state of California, anyone that deliberately exposes a child in a condition that is likely to affect the child's welfare or health must be severely punished. The courts have concluded that motorists who are arrested for DUI with minors in the vehicle should be categorized here and should, therefore, receive a separate charge from the DUI charge. If consequently you are arrested for DUI with a passenger under 14, you are likely to face the following charges:

  • Child endangerment as a separate charge
  • DUI sentence enhancement as per California Vehicle Code 23572
  • Both the above charges

However, it is essential to note that you will not be sentenced to both DUI with a minor in a car and child endangerment because this means that you will be paying for one crime twice, which is prohibited by the courts. Still, you could be accused of both DUI and child endangerment. You could also be charged with child endangerment whether or not the DUI charge you get is a misdemeanor or felony, and even irrespective of the child’s age. Any child below 14 counts in such a case.

Since violating PC 273(a) is a grave offense, not all motorists found driving under the influence with a minor in the car can be accused of it. Only drivers believed to be in the most severe cases are charged with child endangerment. You could be sentenced to a misdemeanor offense if you drove recklessly, but there wasn't an imminent danger for the minor that could result in serious bodily injury or death.

For a person to be accused of child endangerment, there must be proof that they were willfully endangering the minor in the offense. For the crime of child endangerment to be proved, the offender must have willfully:

  • Allowed or caused the child to suffer for no reason
  • Placed the child in conditions where their safety and health was endangered
  • Unjustifiably imposed physical pain or mental suffering on a child

There must also be proof that the defendant acted recklessly and allowed or caused the child under their care to be injured or endangered. If the accused is the child’s parent, the prosecutor will also want to prove to the court that the parent was not disciplining the child.

Getting convicted of endangering a child comes with very stiff penalties. If you get a misdemeanor charge for child endangerment, you may serve a one-year jail term in county prison. If you get a felony sentence, you will be serving up to 6 years in state prison. If the endangered child suffered severe bodily injury, this automatically gives you an additional six years in state prison. If the minor died out of your negligence, you would get a further four years on your prison time.

A person facing child endangerment charges can also be accused of involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, or even 2nd-degree homicide if their actions resulted in the death of the minor.

Possible Defenses for Child Endangerment

A child endangerment case following a DUI arrest will be one of the toughest to handle, but with the help of a smart attorney, the court may reduce your penalties significantly or acquit you of the charges. Some of the possible defense strategies that your attorney could use in this case include:

You did not act willfully

 Like mentioned above, willfulness must be there for a person to be accused of endangering a child. To be found guilty, the court must prove that you intentionally subjected a minor to the risk of danger, which could have resulted in severe bodily injuries or death. The law understands too well that a parent is incapable of offering 100% protection to their children. Sometimes children place themselves in dangerous situations and other times; parents risk their children's lives without intending to do so. If in this case, you prove that you acted reasonably, you may not be found to have acted willfully and thus, may not be guilty of the offense.

False accusation

In cases like these, there are always misunderstandings that could get a person arrested and falsely accused of endangering the life of a minor. Sometimes the police may be mistaken to the point of stopping a person for DUI with no probable cause. In such cases, you cannot be accused of endangering the life of a minor and so, the case might be dropped altogether.

Possible Defenses for DUI

There are several reasons why a person can be accused of DUI in California. For one to be convicted, the prosecutor will need to prove these three reasons beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That the defendant was caught operating a car with a BAC level of at least 0.08%
  • That the defendant was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol
  • That the defendant was driving under drugs’ influence

You do not need to have a BAC level of 0.08% to be considered a DUI offender. As long as your driving ability was impaired because of drugs or alcohol, you can always be accused of DUI. This gets even worse when there was a minor in the car with you.

Considering the seriousness of this charge, anyone charged with drunk driving with a child under 14 would want to fight those accusations with all they got, to ensure that they get a lenient sentence in the end. Fortunately, there are several defense strategies that an experienced Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer can use to help reduce your penalties or get the judge to acquit you of some of the possible charges. Some of these are:

No probable cause

In any DUI case, the arresting officer needs to prove to the court that they had a valid reason to stop and test you for sobriety. What made them believe that you were driving under the influence? The officer is expected to provide accurate facts that will prove that you were acting in a manner to suggest that you were intoxicated, which prompted them to stop and arrest you for DUI. If the officer is not able to prove this, your attorney can take advantage of that to prove to the court that there was no probable cause for the arrest and so, any evidence gathered against you will be invalid, and you could be acquitted of the charges.

Incorrect test results

There are instances when the equipment used to test motorists for BAC fails to work correctly, and this could result in false positive results. An incorrect BAC reading means that a person could get a positive outcome even when they are not intoxicated, or they could get a negative result when they are drunk. Results that come from these tests have been criticized so much for many years, and your attorney can use this to get you off the hook. Additionally, other things could give the test higher levels of alcohol in your breath, for instance, if you had undergone a dental procedure recently. There are diets, too, as well as health conditions that could contribute to an inaccurate positive result.

An increasing BAC

There are times a person's BAC levels increase after the arrest. If for instance, you were recently drinking then you are arrested, you may test for a higher BAC than you had at the time of the arrest. If the tests were not administered at the time of arrest, your attorney might explore this avenue to get you a lenient sentence or have your test results canceled altogether.

The officer did not read your Miranda rights

It is a requirement that after every arrest, the defendant’s Miranda rights should be read to them before the officers start questioning them. If this did not happen, and you were questioned after your arrest, even before you were allowed to contact your attorney, any evidence that may have been collected from the questioning will not be relevant in the court.  It is essential to let your attorney know what exactly happened from the time you were stopped to the time you were presented in court to use any loophole to have your charges reduced or dropped.

Find an Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer Near Me

Driving under the influence with a passenger under 14 is a grave offense that could leave you serving many years in jail and paying hefty penalties. If the court finds you guilty of endangering the life of a child, you might end up receiving penalties for both DUI and child endangerment, which means higher penalties. Things could get even worse if you have a previous DUI conviction on your record. What you need is the help of a smart DUI defense lawyer to help you fight those charges and have your penalties reduced. An Orange County DUI Lawyer can help you determine the best defense strategy and represent you in court until the case is settled. Call us at 714-820-9592 and let us get started.