DUI Child Endangerment Laws

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 What are DUI Child Endangerment Laws?

Driving under the influence (“DUI”), also known as driving while intoxicated (“DWI”) or operating under the influence (“OUI”), is a serious criminal offense. Laws concerning DUI charges will typically vary by state, but generally aim to prevent individuals from operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs by making it illegal and enforcing harsh penalties.

The crime of child endangerment on its own is defined as the mistreatment of a child. According to child endangerment laws, mistreatment may include improper physical or psychological acts. In other words, charges for child endangerment can be filed against an individual who places a minor in a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation that “endangers” their life or well-being.

Thus, an individual who is pulled over while driving under the influence with a child in their vehicle can be charged with the offense of DUI child endangerment, or depending on the state, will be charged twice: once for a DUI and once for child endangerment.

In states that have created a law that covers it as a single offense (i.e., DUI child endangerment), some jurisdictions define “child” as any minor who is under the age of 18, whereas other jurisdictions consider a child to be anyone who is under the age of 14.

Again, though the law and its requirements vary by state, a child endangerment charge essentially serves to aggravate or escalate a standard DUI charge. Accordingly, the consequences for DUI child endangerment are much more serious than the penalties normally issued for a DUI charge by itself.

As an example, if you are charged with a DUI or DWI in New York state, then your punishment will most likely correspond with those issued for misdemeanor offenses. These will be discussed in greater detail in the penalty section below.

On the other hand, if you are charged with a DUI or DWI in New York state while you were driving with a child who was younger than 16 years of age and are convicted, then you can receive a punishment that is reserved for felony offenses (e.g., jail time and hefty criminal fines).

Therefore, if you are charged with DUI child endangerment, then it may be in your best interest to consult a local criminal law attorney for further advice.

What Are the Penalties for DUI with Child Endangerment?

The penalties for DUI child endangerment will be contingent on the laws of the jurisdiction where the crime took place and on the circumstances surrounding an individual case.

For example, some states categorize charges for DUI child endangerment as a misdemeanor, whereas other states classify it as a felony offense. Thus, a defendant who is charged in a state that only considers it to be a misdemeanor, will receive a lesser punishment than a defendant who is charged in a state where it is a felony. This is because there are separate penalties reserved for these two categories of crimes.

In general, a misdemeanor crime is typically considered to be a less serious offense than a felony crime. Charges for a misdemeanor may lead to penalties that include criminal fines, probation, and up to a one year maximum jail sentence. A felony, on the other hand, can result in a prison sentence for anywhere from one year to life in prison, heavy criminal fines, and a permanent criminal record.

In extreme cases, the court may impose monetary penalties (e.g., restitution) and/or issue a sentence for the death penalty. It is important to note that the death penalty is only available as a criminal punishment in about half of the states. As of 2020, approximately 28 states still recognize the death penalty and out of those 28 states, three have decreed a temporary suspension on statewide executions.

Additionally, there are a few states that have enacted separate laws that specifically focus on DUI child endangerment. In contrast, there are also a handful states that do not have a separate law in the state, but will instead “tack on” the child endangerment portion of DUI crimes as a charge for child abuse.

Regardless of how a state classifies the offense, most state prosecutors will propose an enhanced sentence against the driver if they are charged with a DUI while a child is in their vehicle. Accordingly, the majority of DUI child endangerment convictions result in severe forms of punishment.

Some common legal penalties include the above-mentioned criminal fines and jail time, along with parole, probation, rehabilitation programs, and/or restitution payments. Victims of this crime may also be able to sue the defendant for damages in civil court.

Lastly, again while this will be dependent on the jurisdiction and the facts of a case, a defendant who is convicted of felony DUI child endangerment may: have their driver license suspended or revoked, have their vehicle impounded, lose their voting privileges, have difficulty with securing housing or finding employment, and/or lose the right to gain custody over their children.

Are There Any Defenses to DUI Child Endangerment?

There are a number of defenses that a defendant who has been convicted of DUI child endangerment might be able to raise. Whether or not a certain defense applies will depend on the laws of a particular state and the facts surrounding a specific case. Some of these defenses may include:

  • Illegal stop: If the defendant can prove that the arresting officer did not make a legal stop when they pulled over the defendant, then this may serve as a defense. This is because police officers must have probable cause to pull over a vehicle. If this defense is successfully proven by demonstrating the officer pulled over the defendant for an invalid or illegal reason, then the court may dismiss the case.
  • Inaccurate blood test or field sobriety test: A defendant may also be able to question the accuracy of the medical exams administered to test their sobriety. For example, if a police officer did not receive proper training to give a field sobriety test or did not perform a field sobriety test (also known as a breathalyzer test) correctly, then the defendant can argue that the results were inaccurate to get that evidence dismissed.
    • If the defendant can prove that the results were inaccurate or possibly read incorrectly and this evidence is dismissed, then the defendant may be able to get their charges dropped as well as have the entire case against them dismissed.
  • Necessity or no other option: One other defense that a defendant in such cases might be able to raise include necessity or needing to flee an area. This may occur when a defendant is intoxicated and believes that they have no other choice, but to drive away from a scene. A potential instance of this is when the defendant is evading someone who is threatening their well-being or life.
    • It should be noted, however, that this defense is much less common than the others and will not typically apply in most cases.

Can an Attorney Help with a DUI Child Endangerment Charge?

Being convicted of DUI child endangerment can result in serious legal penalties and can have lifelong consequences. Therefore, if you are facing charges for DUI child endangerment, you should contact a local criminal lawyer immediately.

An experienced criminal lawyer can assist you with navigating the criminal justice system, can help to identify any defenses that might be available, and can provide representation in court. Additionally, your lawyer can advocate for alternative sentencing options on your behalf and can also negotiate for a fairer deal in a plea agreement.

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