Child endangerment describes the group of offenses or the added penalty given to an offense when a minor is endangered.  Endangerment of a minor is any activity that would put the minor's social, moral, physical, or mental well-being in peril. Child endangerment laws make it a crime to endanger the health or life of a child through an adult's recklessness or indifference.

Any child endangerment charge is very serious, and courts are unlikely to be lenient in cases where a judge may think a minor child might continue to be at risk or subject to neglect. These criminal charges can result in loss of parental custodial rights.

What Are Examples of Child Endangerment?

States tend to differ as to what constitutes child endangerment. Some common examples of child endangerment are:

  • Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle
  • Driving while intoxicated with a child in the vehicle
  • Hiring a person with a known history of sexual offenses as a childcare provider
  • Serving alcohol to an underage driver
  • Leaving a young child unsupervised or in the care of another young child
  • Unreasonable corporal punishment resulting in bodily injury
  • Manufacturing drugs in the presence of a child
  • Leaving a young child unsupervised in an unsafe area
  • Failure to report suspected child abuse

What Is Child Endangerment in Relation to DUI Charges?

Child endangerment relates to DUI if a parent, caretaker, or guardian is making a conscious decision to endanger the moral and/or physical well-being of the minor they are transporting by illegally driving under the influence of alcohol. Thus, when a court conducts an analysis as to whether the child was endangered, that analysis typically involves an inquiry as to whether the parent was drunk at the time.

What Are the Penalties for DUI with a Minor?

Over half of all states have enacted statutes pertaining to child endangerment while driving impaired due to the influence of alcohol.  The penalties imposed by these statutes vary depending on the:

  • Jurisdiction where the incident took place
  • Age of the minor passenger 
  • Age of the driver 
  • Severity of the passenger's injury
  • Number of similar prior offenses the person has committed 

Penalties, in addition to or in conjunction with any other DUI penalties, can include one or a combination of the following:

  • Jail time
  • Community Service 
  • Fines ranging from $500-$10,000 
  • Suspension or revocation of license

What Are the Defenses For a Child Endangerment Charge?

Some defenses that may be used to mitigate or eliminate one's culpability for child endangerment while driving under the influence are:

  • No knowledge that the child was in the car
  • A defense advocating that the tests used to determine sobriety administered by the police officers were flawed due to faulty equipment or improper training 
  • Contributory negligence by the minor's parent or guardian who should have known or knew the driver was unfit to provide transportation for the minor

What Is Child Endangerment with Drug Paraphernalia?

In addition to child endangerment DUI laws, some jurisdictions also enforce child endangerment in relation to drugs.  Child endangerment with drug paraphernalia is the act of exposing a child to dangers related to drug paraphernalia.  For example, leaving hypodermic needles or razors used to prepare drugs within a child’s reach children may present dangerous hazards.  In most cases, exposing children to the actual illegal drugs, substances, or even drug residue is also considered child endangerment. 

Thus, a parent who is being charged with possession, use, or distribution of drugs may also be charged with child endangerment if their child was exposed to such materials.

Some of the factors that the courts will look at when charging a parent with child endangerment are:

  • Was the incident involving the child serious and dangerous?
  • What is in the best interest of the child?
  • Was the incident so dangerous that the child would be better off away from the parent responsible?
  • Is the future of the child on the line if the child stays with the parent responsible?

Do I Need an Attorney for Child Endangerment and DUI Issues?

If your child was a passenger of a car with a drunk driver, you should speak to a lawyer to learn how to get compensation for any injuries they may have suffered. If you have been arrested for a DUI with a child passenger, you should speak to a DUI lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses and the complicated legal system.