California courts take DUI charges more seriously when there is a minor in the car. The consequences quickly become more severe. Most of these consequences involve criminal penalties like jail, probation and fines. But if the child is your own, or a child you have custody over, there is a chance the child could be taken away. We will look at exactly what penalties you face, and how to keep custody of your child.
DUI and Children in California
When you’re arrested for DUI with a minor in the car, you will face all the penalties of a normal DUI, but you will face an additional charge as well. There are two ways the prosecutor can charge you: a “DUI with a Minor” sentence enhancement, or a separate “Child Endangerment” charge.
Neither of these charges involve taking away your child. However, any DUI involving a minor in the car will be reported to Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS may perform their own investigation, and they do have the power to take away your child.
“DUI with a Minor” Sentence Enhancement
This is a sentence enhancement on top of your DUI charge. It adds extra jail time to your normal DUI sentence. The exact amount of jail time is:
- First DUI: 48 hours
- Second DUI: 10 days
- Third DUI: 30 days
- Fourth DUI: 90 days
This enhancement only applies if the minor in the car was under 14 years of age.
Defense against this enhancement is hard because it’s so easy to prove that a minor was in the vehicle. Many defendants try to make an impassioned case that they love their child and would never hurt them intentionally. The court generally doesn’t consider this argument. Either the child was in danger, or not.
That’s why an experienced DUI attorney will focus on defending against the DUI charge itself. If you weren’t driving under the influence, then it doesn’t matter whether a child was in the car. Your lawyer may challenge the breath test or blood test used to determine your blood alcohol level. Or, they may challenge the officer’s judgment in assuming you were drunk.
This is not a DUI charge at all. It’s a separate criminal charge that can be used anytime an adult is “negligent” in the care of a child. It’s the same charge that’s used in many domestic violence cases.
Unlike the DUI sentence enhancement, Child Endangerment does not stop at age 14. If any minor under 18 was in the car, you could face this charge.
It’s fair to say that Child Endangerment shouldn’t be used in the majority of DUI cases. In the past, this charge was only used in extreme cases, where the parent drove recklessly or with a very high alcohol level. More and more, however, prosecutors seek this charge in lesser DUI cases. They see it as a way to boost their odds of getting a conviction.
For this charge, however, the court will consider many factors. They’ll consider that you didn’t intend to put your child at risk. They’ll also consider whether you drove negligently and just how high your blood alcohol level was. These factors determine whether you were negligent in your child’s care, which is a big part of what Child Endangerment means.
For most Child Endangerment cases, where the child was not actually injured, the penalties include:
- Up to 6 months of additional jail time (in addition to the DUI sentence)
- Up to $1,000 in additional fines
- At least 4 years of probation
As part of the probation, the judge may issue a protective order regarding the child in question. If you don’t have custody of the child, this could be a “stay away” order that bans you from seeing them—but this is very unlikely. If anything, it would be an order not to drink alcohol (or consume drugs) during the probation period. This can be enforced with random alcohol/drug testing.
Note: The prosecutor can choose to charge you with both of these charges. But if you’re convicted, you will only serve the more serious Child Endangerment penalties (in addition to normal DUI penalties). You won’t face the full penalties of both.
Child Protective Services and DUI in Los Angeles
When your DUI is reported to Child Protective Services (CPS), they may decide to investigate. CPS is not a law enforcement agency, but they do have legal powers over custody. They can remove a child from a home if they believe that child is not well cared for.
If CPS decides to investigate they may pay a visit to your home. It’s natural to be defensive toward this visit, but it’s in your best interest to cooperate. They’re looking for signs that:
- Your home is unsafe
- You are an alcoholic or drug addict
- You don’t feed or care for your children
- You drive drunk regularly
- You are violent toward your children
It’s best to show them that you have nothing to hide. They may want to ask you questions about how you parent. They may also want to speak to your child, with or without you present.
An experienced DUI attorney has seen CPS get involved in cases before. They know what CPS is looking for and what you can do to prepare. If you speak to your DUI lawyer, they will help you get ready and have the best chance possible of keeping custody over your child.
We can help you speak to a top Los Angeles DUI Lawyer for FREE. We’ll take basic details about your case and match you with a lawyer who has the right experience. They’ll give you a free, no obligation meeting to discuss your case and get basic advice on how to proceed. Fill out the form to the right and get your free case evaluation today.