Driving under the influence, otherwise known as a DUI, is a serious offense. DUI laws vary from state-to-state. Some jurisdictions have different terms for DUI laws, including: driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired (DWI), operating while intoxicated (OWI) and operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI). In general, these laws prohibit operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Child endangerment refers to the mistreatment of a child or children. The mistreatment can be physical or psychological. Charges for child endangerment can be made against an individual that places a minor in a dangerous — or potentially dangerous — situation.
If an individual is found to be driving under the influence while a child is in the vehicle, the DUI charge can be coupled with a child endangerment charge. While the DUI child endangerment charge differs depending on where one lives, it basically aggravates the DUI charge — in other words, the consequences of the charge are more serious than a DUI charge by itself.
Depending on where the potential offense took place, DUI child endangerment can be considered a misdemeanor in some jurisdictions and a felony in others.
A misdemeanor is a crime that is considered to be a lesser offense than a felony. A misdemeanor charge can carry up to a $5,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail. A felony is also a criminal charge — however, the crime and the consequences of the crime are usually more serious than a misdemeanor charge.
A felony verdict can carry a prison sentence anywhere from one year to life in prison. Felony prison terms are typically carried out in a state or federal penitentiary whereas misdemeanors sentences are often served in county jails.
Extreme monetary penalties may also be imposed for a felony offense. Some felony crimes may result in a death sentence. Keep in mind that this depends on your local laws, so be sure to check with a lawyer to find out what possible punishment you may be facing.
There are some states that have a separate law specifically dealing with DUI child endangerment. Other states may not have a separate law on the books but will instead “tack” on the child endangerment — or even a child abuse — charge to the DUI. If a child is in the vehicle and an individual is charged with a DUI, the prosecutor will look to enhance the penalty against the driver.
The minimum age of the child for a DUI child endangerment charge differs from state-to-state. Some jurisdictions define a “child” for the purposes of this law as anyone under the age of 18 while other jurisdictions opted to define a “child” as anyone under the age of 14.
No matter where one lives, a DUI child endangerment charge can result in severe penalties — including jail time and fines. Additionally, one can lose driving privileges, risk losing or finding new employment as well as have difficulty with future housing opportunities.
There are several defenses to DUI that may be applied to a DUI child endangerment charge as well. These defenses may include:
- Inaccurate Blood Test or Field Sobriety Test: A defense attorney may question the accuracy of the test administered against a defendant by law enforcement officials. Sometimes a police officer may not be properly trained on the field sobriety or breathalyzer equipment and the results can be read incorrectly or may simply be inaccurate.
- If the results of the tests — used to prove that a defendant was drunk and operating a vehicle — were in fact inaccurate or could have been inaccurate, the defendant may have a case to drop the charges.
- Illegal Stop: A defense attorney may also question whether or not the initial stop made by the arresting officer was legal in the first place. An officer must have probable cause to pull someone over. The court may consider dismissing the charges if it can be proven that the reason — or the lack of reason — the defendant was pulled over in the first place was invalid.
- No Other Choice/Necessity: Another possible defense that may be raised — although not as common as other defenses — includes the need to flee an area. In other words, the defendant believes they have no other choice but to drive away even though they are intoxicated. A possible example may an individual escaping from someone threatening their life.
Each case is different and applicable defenses are possible in most scenarios. The defense will depend on the circumstances of the individual’s case.
DUI child endangerment charges are serious and can make a life-long impact on all those involved. If charged with DUI child endangerment, it is imperative to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
The criminal justice system can be confusing and overwhelming. A criminal defense lawyer familiar with the local laws can guide you to take the best legal route in your matter — including presenting you with any applicable defenses and preserving your rights.