In California, DUI laws are set to impose harsher punishments when aggravating factors are at play in your case.  If you are driving while intoxicated with drugs, alcohol, or both and you have a child below 14 years in the car with you, you will face more severe consequences if convicted than if you were alone. This is because your actions will be considered as placing the child in danger, which prompts a sentence enhancement.

In case you are facing charges of DUI with a Passenger Under 14 years in San Jose, you will need an experienced DUI attorney by your side to help fight the charges. A skilled attorney may be able to get you the best possible outcome for your case, including a case dismissal or a reduction of the charges. At San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm, we have experienced attorneys who understand the ins and outs of California DUI laws. They will fight to protect your rights and present a strong defense, which will yield satisfying results.

What Happens When You Are Arrested for DUI with a Passenger Under 14 Years

Under Vehicle Code 23572, you will be subjected to specific sentence enhancements if you are found guilty of driving while intoxicated and you had a minor of 14 years old or below in the motor vehicle when the officer arrested you. You will serve an additional compulsory jail time to add to your ordinary DUI punishments. This implies that in case you get convicted of this offense, you will, with no doubt, do the jail sentence since the sentence cannot be eliminated in a plea bargain, neither can it be exchanged for community work or any other alternative sentencing.

This is much similar to other U.S states. Thus, California isn’t the only state that treats driving while intoxicated with a passenger below 14 years differently. However, unlike other states, California treats the offense as an aggravating factor that leads to sentence enhancement instead of treating it as a completely distinct crime. Also, it has both DUI with a Passenger Under 14 and Child Endangerment laws separate instead of merging the two like it is with most states. This implies that a person can be found guilty of either one of the two offenses or both, based on the facts surrounding the case.

What the Prosecutor Must Prove for DUI with a Passenger Under 14 Conviction

DUI with a Passenger Under 14 is a straightforward offense. Even if you get convicted of a misdemeanor DUI, the DUI with a child endangerment sentence enhancement will apply provided a child below 14 years old was in the car when the officer arrested you.

Factors like your degree of intoxication, driving pattern, and whether or not you had the intention of harming the child do not count. Instead, the prosecutor will only focus on two questions, which he/she must prove for you to get the sentence enhancement. They include:

  1. Whether you had a passenger of 14 years or below in the motor vehicle you were driving

  2. Whether you were driving or was in actual physical control of the vehicle while intoxicated

DUI with a Passenger Under 14 is a wobbler offense, to mean it could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony based on the seriousness of the pain and suffering you inflicted on the minor. As earlier mentioned, some prosecutors can also prosecute you under Penal Code 273a Child endangerment on top of the DUI charge rather than an enhancement.

Penalty Enhancements for DUI with a Passenger Under 14 as per VC 2357

According to Vehicle Code 23572, in case you are found guilty of driving while intoxicated with drugs, alcohol or both and the jail time is increased because you were driving with a passenger below 14 years, you will serve the time for the normal DUI conviction as well as the additional and consecutive sentence listed below:

  • If convicted of first DUI, the additional sentence will be forty-eight hours to be served in the county jail.

  • If convicted of a second DUI, you will face an additional ten days of a county jail sentence.

  • If you are convicted of a third DUI offense, you will be subjected to an additional thirty days of a county jail sentence.

  • For a fourth and subsequent misdemeanor offenses, you will face an additional 90 days of county jail time.

Note that a prior DUI conviction only refers to the conviction you had within ten years before you were arrested for DUI with a Passenger Under 14 years in the vehicle.

Also, it is worth noting that a fourth DUI conviction within ten years becomes a wobbler offense. If you are facing felony charges, VC 23572 DUI with a minor penalty enhancement won’t apply.

There are certain cases that if you are charged with a felony, the court applies a “strike” on your criminal record. This may have severe repercussions on you in case you ever get convicted of a felony again. If you have a strike, then get convicted of a felony offense for a second time, the court may apply a sentence of up to twice the original maximum. In case you are found guilty of a third felony, the sentence will be 25 years to life imprisonment.

Apart from enhancing the penalty due to driving with a passenger below 14 while intoxicated, California law can also enhance DUI penalties due to these reasons:

  • DUI with a BAC level of .15% or higher

  • Refusal to take a DUI chemical test

  • DUI on a suspended license

  • DUI over the stipulated speed limit

How to Fight a DUI with a Passenger Under 14 Sentence Enhancement

In case you are facing a DUI with a Passenger Under 14 sentence enhancement, it is crucial to consult with a skilled DUI attorney immediately. The proficient attorneys at San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm boast several years of expertise in representing different clients in every manner of DUI cases. If faced with any DUI charge in San Jose, you have a chance of fighting it and you may win regardless of the strong proof against you.

Winning a DUI charge provides the key to avoiding enhanced sentencing. In fighting the charges against you, your attorney can challenge the procedure the arresting officer used to put you under arrest and the authenticity of the urine, blood, and breath testing process and the results. You may have a solid defense in case you weren’t driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle at the time of the arrest. If the jury finds you guilty, or if you plead guilty to the charges against you, your attorney can negotiate for a lenient sentence.

Note that, first, you have to be convicted of simple DUI under VC 23152a or DUI with a BAC of .08% or more under VC 23152b for your penalty to be enhanced on the grounds of driving under the influence with an under 14 passenger.  Thus, if you win any DUI charges that you are facing, the judge cannot apply the enhanced punishment for having operated the vehicle with a minor, which means VC 23572 penalties won’t apply.

Additionally, if your attorney cannot have your case dismissed through common legal DUI defenses, he/she can negotiate a deal with the prosecutor during plea bargaining to have your DUI charges reduced. Instead of being convicted of the initial charges, the offense can be reduced to a dry reckless charge or a wet reckless offense.

A reduced charge may prevent penalty enhancements. For instance, if your charge is reduced to wet reckless, VC 23572 penalty enhancement will no longer apply. Thus, it is important to have an expert attorney who may be able to analyze the possibility of winning your case as well as the potential benefits and risks of a plea bargain, so he or she doesn’t compromise your chances of walking free.

Facing Both Vehicle Code 23572 Sentence Enhancement for DUI with a Passenger Under 14 in the Vehicle and Penal Code 273a Child Endangerment

PC 273a is a separate offense from VC 23572. It could be charged as a misdemeanor offense or a felony. The laws that govern the cases of child endangerment in California punish the people who intentionally expose minors to situations that endanger their health or welfare. The courts in California have ruled driving while intoxicated with a passenger under 14 years in the vehicle to be in this category.

For DUI cases with a passenger under 14 years in the vehicle, a prosecutor can opt to charge you with either of these offenses:

  • The distinct PC 273a child endangerment offense

  • VC 23572 sentence enhancement for DUI with a child

  • Both PC 273a and VC 23572

However; note that you can’t be sentenced on both PC 273a and VC 23572 offenses. The law forbids the courts to impose VC 23572 sentence enhancement on an offender who has already been convicted of PC 273a child endangerment. Though, it is possible for an offender to be sentenced for both normal DUI (without the sentence enhancement of having an under 14 passenger in the vehicle) alongside child endangerment.

A prosecutor can charge you with a child endangerment offense irrespective of the minor’s age (anyone below the age of 18 years counts when it comes to this offense), and whether your DUI is a felony or a misdemeanor. On this note, PC 273a charges are more serious. They aren’t automatically charged in relation to every drunk driving case involving an under 14 passenger. A prosecutor will typically charge you with Penal Code 273a child endangerment if your case is extremely serious.

Let’s look at an example. Greg is stopped by traffic police because the tail lights of his car are out. In the car, Greg is carrying his daughter, who is nine years old. The child is seated in the passenger seat with her safety belt fastened. When she moves closer to Greg, the police can smell alcohol on him, which prompts him to carry out a DUI probe. The breath test results indicate that Greg has a BAC of .07%. Greg has never had a DUI conviction before.

Because of the factors surrounding Greg’s case, it is unlikely that he will face a child endangerment charge. The prosecutor is most likely going to charge him with Vehicle Code 23572 sentence enhancement for DUI with a Passenger Under 14. This is because his DUI case is not very serious.

Here is another example:

Jeanette is pulled over after a Highway Patrol officer notices her driving erratically. The officer observes that her speech is slurry, and she seems extremely intoxicated. He conducts a breath test which indicates that Jeanette has a .15% BAC. In the car, her nine-month-old son is seated at the back seat, and not fastened into the seat.

It is most likely that the prosecutor will charge Jeanette with both child endangerment offense and DUI rather than VC 23572 sentence enhancement for DUI with a Passenger Under 14 because her crime is very serious.

What a Prosecutor Should Prove in a Child Endangerment Case

To be found guilty of child endangerment charges, the prosecutor has to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you:

  • Intentionally caused or allowed the minor to be harmed while he or she was in your custody.

  • It caused unreasonable physical or mental harm to the child that was in your custody.

  • Deliberately caused or allowed the minor to be surrounded by circumstances where the possibility of injury is very high while he or she was in your custody.

  • Intentionally placed the child who was under your custody in a situation that exposed him or her to physical pain or mental suffering.

Note that the child in your custody doesn’t need to sustain an injury for you to be guilty of PC 273a charges. Thus, you must have to hire a knowledgeable attorney who is familiar with these cases to improve your chances of not being convicted since a simple mistake can land you in jail.

Also, note that for you to be convicted of these charges, it requires that you must have acted willfully. If the prosecutor fails to prove that your actions were intentional, you may not be convicted. For example;

Chris and his son Brad are attending a child’s party. At the party, Chris accidentally drinks an alcoholic beverage, knowing it wasn't an alcoholic, and he takes it in excess. He knows that he hasn’t been drinking and decides to leave the part and drive his son home. While driving, he starts feeling the effect of the drinks he took. An officer pulls Chris over for reasonably suspecting that he is operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The breath test indicates that he has a .08% BAC, and he fails the field sobriety test. The officer arrests him and charges him with DUI and child endangerment

At trial, Chris’s attorney argues that Chris didn’t know he was consuming an alcoholic drink, so he didn’t know he was getting himself under the influence. The attorney could argue that there’s no possibility that Chris could have driven home with Brad in the car, knowing he was intoxicated. Since it was involuntary intoxication, the prosecutor should dismiss the charges against Chris.

Involuntary intoxication is not a common defense to DUI with child endangerment charges, though it is valid. It serves to show that the action that exposed the minor to the danger was not willful or intentional.

Other examples of cases that qualify to be child endangerment include:

  • Leaving loaded firearms, knives, or any other weapon in a place that children can access

  • Failure to provide medical care for your sick child

  • Intentionally leaving your child under the care of an abusive nanny

You will face misdemeanor charges in case your action was relatively harmful, but there wasn’t a risk of death or great bodily harm to the child. For instance, refusing to stop at a checkpoint, driving slightly over the limit, equipment violation, or weaving slightly within your lane.

A misdemeanor conviction of child endangerment carries a maximum of one-year county jail sentence whereas a felony conviction carries a state prison sentence not exceeding six years. If the child sustained a great bodily injury, you might get a sentence enhancement involving an additional maximum of six years of jail time. In case the child succumbs to the harm you inflicted, you may face an additional and consecutive four years of a state prison sentence.

In addition to DUI and child endangerment charges, you may also face charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree homicide, or voluntary manslaughter if the minor passes away.

Potential defenses to child endangerment include wrongful accusation, you did not act willfully, and were acting within your rights of disciplining your child. However, the latter defense will only hold if you did not expose the child to a high risk of danger or if you did not inflict great bodily injury. These are just a few of the legal defenses your lawyer can present to persuade the jury to drop your charges.

DUI with a Passenger Under 14 and Custody-Related Issues

In case the under 14 passenger you put at risk of harm wasn’t yours, issues of custody will not emerge from your actions. However, in most cases, the parent or guardian of the under 14 minor (or below 18 years in this case) is the one that commits the DUI.

There isn’t a provision in place either for PC 273a or VC 23572 that will deny you custody of your child if convicted. However, the DUI with an under 14 passenger case will be escalated to California Child Protective Services (CPS). This agency may intervene for the removal of the minor from your custody.

Therefore, it is important that you win the charges of child endangerment or DUI with a minor against you for your family’s sake and so that you get to keep your driver’s license as well as avoid jail time. Moreover, if convicted, ensure you secure an experienced attorney who may be able to prevent CPS from attempting to take the child away.

CPS can decide to do a follow up on your DUI with a Passenger Under 14 conviction report by carrying out their investigation. They may investigate the home environment of the child to make sure he or she is cared for as needed. You should cooperate with the investigators for the avoidance of giving a negative impression. However, you should not disclose to them details that can implicate you or prompt them to take any action against you.

The investigators will want to find out if your living environment is secure, if you are an alcohol or drug addict, if you regularly drink and get behind the wheel, to take note of any violence against your child, and to find out if your child is clothed and fed properly, and has all the necessary basic needs. Therefore, expect uncomfortable questions from the investigators with the center of focus being on the DUI case in which the minor was involved. They will also want to talk to your child, in private for a short time.

As DUI defense attorneys who have witnessed several DUI with a Passenger Under 14 and child endangerment cases before, we are well-conversant with all the processes, including DMV and criminal court proceedings. We also understand how the CPS investigation works. Thus, we can advise you accordingly on how you can maximize your possibilities of avoiding the investigation or how to prepare adequately for the investigation.

Find an Experienced DUI Attorney Near Me

DUI with a Passenger Under 14 in the vehicle is treated very seriously in San Jose. Its conviction could have life-changing effects on you. Therefore, it is critical that once charged, you reach out to a DUI attorney as soon as possible and get the legal assistance you need.

Our attorneys at San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm are experts and have represented clients in all kinds of DUI cases, even those involving child endangerment. They will build a solid, valid defense that will get you the best probable outcome of your case. We understand the sensitivity of the case. Thus, we will treat it with the discretion it deserves. Call us at 408-777-6630 to tell us about your case so we can know how to help you.